Because the greatest change happening, is the change within...
My host lost one of her older brothers to cancer last Friday. She decided not to tell me until she realized they wouldn't be able to pick me up from my trip into the big city for an eye check-up and some escape from rural life. We were all surprised at how long he held on, having not eaten food in two months, shrinking away to nothing but a smile shielding his family from the pain beneath. He stopped taking morphine two weeks before his passing, as well. He was a sweet man, from the little I knew of him, and the precious little I spoke with him, but very loved by his large family, and incredibly strong.
As with most passings in Thailand that I have witnessed, tears were not openly shed (except in the case of my student, Baitoey). What was different, is that I was invited to help serve and prepare more, since the family accepts me as an honorary member, now. Even more wonderful, my host's son (I refer to him as my nephew/lil bro/student interchangeably) had his first opportunity to don monk robes.
Nong Plum (pronounced more like Bplume) is a sweetheart of a kid who loves to laugh, loves to eat, and loves cars! I gave him a remote control race car for his 9th birthday, and I'm pretty sure he's still sleeping with it, he loves it so much. As far as his eating habits go, he most closely resembles a hobbit. What he is not well known for is his thoughtfulness, eagerness to learn, or willingness to help with chores. Mainly because he's the baby of the family, and a boy to boot, not much is expected of him in this respect.
On the last day of funeral proceedings, the day I helped prepare and serve food and water for the monks and guests, I saw Plum from across the temple, and was flabbergasted. He was sweeping in simple peace and quiet, with absolute focus on the task at hand. When he came up to greet me later, his smile as I told him how impressed I was spanned from ear to ear and his chest filled with pride. His sweet eyes shone, under the sensitive skin red from the shaving his eyebrows and head received. He handed his mother an envelope that the temple had given him for his service thus far, and returned back to the elder monks for further preparation, before the ceremony took place.
|With a new friend from the temple|
|Nong Plum grinning away|
|My hosts and very proud parents of Plum|
During the ceremony, he sat still, said the prayers he knew when the time was right, and grinned in his indelible way as he helped lead the casket around the temple three times before it was sent up the stairs to be blessed before cremation. Plum ended up receiving another envelope of money before leaving the temple on his last day, and was so eager to open the envelopes I thought he might crawl out of his own skin as his mom looked for the envelope he had handed her earlier. Three hundred baht (nearly $10) was burning a hole in his pocket and he kept asking the whole way home if we could stop at Tesco Express so he could buy a comic book.
But somehow, by the time we got near Tesco, his mind had changed. Maybe it was my giving him a snack when we stopped at the quickie mart, or his mom buying him his favorite tea. Maybe it was a lesson that sunk in from his days at the temple. Maybe he grew up in that hour-long car-ride home. For whatever reason, he handed his mom and me 100 baht each, and when we tried to return it to him, he refused. He refused again, today, when I saw the money still sitting on my desk and heard the ice-cream seller coming down the street.
For whatever it's worth, I'll hold onto it for him. Maybe start a piggy bank in my room for him and throw in my change every day, put in a 20 or 50 when he does something nice...buy him a tool kit next year for his birthday. I don't know what I'll do with it or whether it really matters that I do anything special at all, but I do know how proud I am of my little bro, and what a joy it was to see him take a huge step towards maturity.
I can only imagine what the next 20 months has in store!