POSTCARD#289: Chiang Mai: It’s all coming to an end here, I go back to Delhi tomorrow and today is the 5th of November… remember, remember the fifth of November. Scary things, monsters and Halloween coming to an end too, for my Thai niece M aged 13 who is not interested in it any more. Not interested in witches hats and dressing up – dressing up maybe yes, interested. Or dressing down, torn jeans and earbuds in, and deaf to the world. It’s about how one is seen, ‘selfing’ like an actor playing a part, and the audience is swept away. “Bye-bye Toong-Ting, see you in December”, and she’s in the car and gone. I go downstairs to get something, along the lane to the main road, warm air, tall buildings create shade. Sadness; remembering M as a cute kid holding my hand and skipping along beside me… these days are gone.
Sadness still, over the passing of the King, noticeable in the absence of remembrance wreathes that were there everywhere in the town (and all over the country) for a year of bereavement. The feeling that something important has been taken away; this is how it is all through Thailand these days. A sense of his presence remains in the hearts of the population, manifest in all of the thousands of rural projects he initiated over a lifetime. I feel the presence too, it’s simple, the King lives on… he was a devout Buddhist, and the way I see it now, he reached enlightenment – I thought, surely it must be that everyone else can see it this way too, but then understood such a thing was best left unsaid.
This is how the experience was for me; I’d been watching the cremation ceremony on TV until quite late, and in the morning I felt his presence all through the apartment, out on the balcony, in the sky, the clouds, reflected light in the fields of paddy and all the way, it must be, to everywhere in the country. I feel his presence in the air, assimilated in the structural elements of materiality; the buildings and all through my surroundings now walking along the lane, as I used to with M as a child, holding on to one of my fingers as if it were the branch of a tree.
Out of the shadow, into the sunlight. Same sunshine we all feel as it strikes the retina… reaching for my sunglasses. A wetness in the eye, vestiges of mourning almost gone with the experience of the passing-away of someone dear to us. A large part of the Thai has simply gone… yet things just go on. Behind me comes the sound: toot-tootle-toot! And a man on a three-wheeled bicycle gets my attention with his little horn: toot-tootle-tee-tootle-too. He’s selling pieces of cut fruit – inquires with raised eyebrow if I’d like to buy some. I fell drawn to it but politely decline, thanks no; I’m just looking around.
As silence is not silence, but a limit of hearing.
As some strings, untouched, sound when no one is speaking.
So it was when love slipped inside us.
As this life is not a gate, but the horse plunging through it.
The heart’s actions
are neither the sentence nor its reprieve.
Salt hay and thistles, above the cold granite.
One bird singing back to another because it can’t not
[Jane Hirshfield, Come, Thief]
Beautiful… my granddaughter, now two years old, lives with my son and daughter in law in Adelaide. They are both doctors, and left the politics of the Tories and the UK’s NHS. I see her once every 18 months if I’m lucky. She held onto my finger, too, as we walked through their local town. Too painful to bear, sometimes…
Yes, steals your heart away. When she was about 3, I remember her taking my hand and discarding fingers till she found the right one and holding on to that.
My grandson is only 7 but I still miss his fingers grabbing mine at his earlier age… needing me, loving me… being with me… sadness mixed with gratitude for this great experience… AND I can imagine how many mums keep having more children to always have this connection. Much love, barbara x
Yes, as Steven says, sigh… What else can you say? I’ve had only one opportunity to be the adult witnessing these precious years of the child. It is, as you say, ‘sadness mixed with gratitude’
Ah, your words are so filled with feeling. I am wondering why you are turning to Delhi so soon after arriving, perhaps because of the heaviness of a nation in a year of grieving. I am touched by your sadness at leaving your niece. have four grandchildren. Sadly, after my son and his wife divorced and moved apart and custody went back and forth for a time, the children returned to their mother and we got only the occasional text from her, and their father fell into the affliction of drugs. Sadness beyond measure. Then last month the oldest, a beautiful girl now 18, called me! What joy to reconnect. There is always another day, and the miracle can happen for him, but I recognize he has his own path and his own karma. I send you a virtual hug. Namasté 🙏🌞
Nice to see the Gaelic spelling of your name by the way! I’m here in Bangkok transit lounge with 2 hours to wait for the next flight to Delhi. I can only imagine the strings of attachment to four grandchildren… yes it’s been a short time with M, the whole reason for me being there in Chiang Mai was to stay with M for the last week of school holiday while her mom goes to work – battlefields of separation there too, no one else in that household to step in.
Now that’s done and I’ll be glad to move on really, the grieving can be too much of a burden.
It’s that feeling of having two lives, I’m at this moment stepping out-of and in-to… no-man’s land in-between, you know what I mean?
And yes I know that sad story of a former wife, marriage is almost less common than divorce. It was a catastrophe for me too, and reading your words reminds me that it’s a divorce from all the in-laws and there’s sadness all around that loss. I had so much fun and laughter with my former wife’s family, they just swept me in and called me their own. The years of coldness afterwards became like layers and layers of ice and solitude… ‘sadness beyond measure’.
We never had any children of our own and tend to gaze fondly at others’ but there’s M and another newborn in Jiab’s family, so we can become part of that new life all over again, hopefully.
Miracles do happen, fondness and gratitude.
A heartbreakingly beautiful meditation.
Thanks for these words, it’s the dirge, the lament, the pibroch, but it’s over now and I need to shake off this malaise of attachment. Stepping over the border into a new territory, into something new – at the airport, ready to go…
“Because it can’t”
“Because it can’t not do that” (sing)?
Yes. My comment should have read “Because it can’t” 😳 Oh dear.
OK. Try again.
“Because it can’t not”.
(Normal service will resume as soon as possible. Or that’s the plan. My brain has been on a short break it appears.)
Thanks Ben and I hope that works out for you.
I’m sure all will be well overall. 🙂
This bird sings back to you, my friend.
Echoing your lament.
Because I can’t not.
Thanks Paz, I see your avatar as a singing bird…
Change is constant. Loss inevitable. I am sorry. And very sad too. Still quite ill so this is short. My sympathies…
Thanks Ellen for the concise description, you are completely right of course.
I hope you are feeling better today
I share your sentiments about the presence of the king, even after the official ceremonies of closure. I asked one Thai friend, the only one I asked, what was the best thing about the king. He said it was that he lived a simple life, never ostentatious, never flaunting wealth, the trappings of royalty. And then, one week later, Chiang Mai lit up for Loi Krathong, it was as if a heavy cloud had lifted. Smiles everywhere, joy, pure fun, reverence, tradition, pride. Beautiful to behold, even amidst the lingering farewell that may never fully disappear.
Thanks Gary, you described it perfectly. The presence remains, you could say, in the unassuming ordinariness of the moment. Things move on…
I believe we have to feel and experience such losses throughout life, so we can learn to appreciate the fullness of being. With awareness we learn detachment, yet hold the love in our hearts.
It isn’t an easy path.
It isn’t an easy path, no, it can’t be for anyone, although I’ve been with some elderly people who seem to be able to acknowledge the fragility and loss as a characteristic of life, and have come to a place of peace. This would be the understanding of ‘fullness of being’, and the same thing could be said in all kinds of ways. In my case, over the years, I have learned about detachment but ‘holding the love in our hearts’ is something I’m still working with, so thanks Val for reminding me of this 🙂
I found this post to be very touching, and I felt I could reflect on loss in a meaningful way. I love the photograph that you presented here as it really illustrates something that I can’t find the words for!~
May peace be with you. As we are all in this together, even as we ebb and flow…. thinking of your dear niece, and how changes happen but we still keep our connections with loved ones, even as they change with our interests…
Thank you Ka for a very meaningful comment; “even as we ebb and flow”, an immensity that’s there in the background, we don’t normally see. In the same way, we see it in children as they grow and vanish into the world