Just a Little Patience

Americans are not a patient people.

Amazon is piloting a two-hour delivery period in San Francisco and New York–a stop-gap measure until its drones are approved for faster delivery. Then there’s one of my most dreaded tasks back home: standing in a line that barely crawls at the U.S. Post Office, while customers mutter profanities and I inevitably (and embarrassingly) hear echoing in my head, It’s like a developing country in here. You don’t find us Americans willing to wait countless eons, trudging through innumerable lifetimes to achieve enlightenment. And you won’t find us, after waiting all this time, under a Bodhi tree, ready to sit still for as long as it takes.

So when our family finally arrived in Bangkok Tuesday night, bleary-eyed and disoriented, nearly twenty-four hours after leaving home, it wasn’t easy watching everyone else’s bags snaking their way along the conveyor belt. When the belt finally stopped, the message “Last Bag” pulsed ominously overhead. Not one of our bags had made it to Thailand.

Guardian deities outside the Temple of the Emerald Buddha Complex


We landed in Bangkok on December 29, wondering if we were really doing this trip or it was all some kind of strange dream.  The past few days have been a jet lagged haze, but not in an unpleasant way: we’re staying near Khao San Road, the backpacker mecca that Seth and I remember from a trip here decades ago.  On this trip, however, it is clear that we are, all four of us, just about exactly twenty years off from the target demographic of beer drinking European twenty somethings.  And yet, it has been a gentler place to begin our trip than I feared: I worried a lot that Bangkok’s hectic pace and sheer enormity would be a stressful place to begin our journey, but the boys have surprised me by demonstrating rather little culture shock so far.  Perhaps the easy availability of things like cereal with milk, sandwiches, and a hotel swimming pool have given us enough of the familiar.  In fact, I have been delighted by the neighborhood this time around, maybe because it is so different seen from a twenty year vantage point.

Early lessons in non attachment

In preparation for this trip (six days till departure, house still in a state of chaos, everyone quite irritable), we have been endlessly discussing many things.  How many pairs of shorts?  Book lodging ahead or wait and see?  Best way to get the visas all set up in advance?  And — over and over — do we need to cut Jonah’s hair?  Jonah is eight.  He has shoulder length surfer-blond hair and is routinely mistaken for a girl, an error which has bothered him very little as he is quite secure in his knowledge that he is not, in fact, a girl.  He is a rock star.

But we’ve become concerned.  First of all, he is a rock star who doesn’t really like to brush his hair, and this could become tedious on the road, as could the need to keep washing it in very warm climates.  And beyond that, Seth and I had cultural questions.  Jonah is really very blond.  We are already likely to stick out like sore thumbs in most (all?) of the places we’re visiting.  Is it really a good idea to have the smallest one of us be this noticeable?  Probably not.  And so the discussion of the haircut continued.

To be honest, I was in favor of waiting.  Jonah was ambivalent.  But Seth won out.  “It’s only hair,” he said, “It’ll grow back.  There’s no good reason not to.”  He was right, though secretly I hoped he’d forget about the haircut appointment in the rush to get ready to leave.  He didn’t.

I stayed positive, watching Jonah in the hairdressers chair.  “You look so grown up,” I said, “So handsome.”  It was true, but he also looked a little sad.  My small child has a certain wisdom, though, and a surprising interest in mindfulness — and in preparation for the trip, we’ve been looking at library books about life in Asia.  We were quiet for a bit on the drive home.

Then this: “Mom,” he said, “Did you know that in Thailand, when a boy becomes a monk, he cuts off all his hair, all at once, and then puts it on a lotus leaf and sails the leaf away?”

I didn’t know that.  I said so.

“Do you know why they do that?,” he continues.  I don’t, though I can sort of see where this is going.

“Tell me,” I say.

“It’s like their first teaching.  They sail the hair away, and they’re practicing non attachment.  Like not being attached to long hair.”  There is another pause.  Then, of course, the followup.  “Maybe I should find a lotus leaf somewhere.”

Six days before we even depart, and we are already changed.

One Boy’s Fantasy Is Another’s Nightmare

Jonah wakes in his bed, crying for us. We’re still at home.

Emily, Miles, and I sprint to his room. “What’s wrong, kiddo?”

“I had a nightmare,” he whimpers. “It was terrible.”