Monday, August 1, 2011

the free smile

Years ago I traveled in Nepal. I first wrote a bit about our travels in Nepal in this article from several years ago.Nepal is one of several developing countries that I have visited over the years. It was and still is my favorite. It wasn't the beautiful Himalayas rising up over the steaming hot springs in the valley, or the yaks wandering through the street of Kathmandu amid the people, some beautiful and some old and haggard, some shoeless and some decked in glittering, rainbow colored eastern finery. It was not the delicious yogurt or the stupas covered with monkeys, or the marigold necklaces for sale at the market as offerings to the gods, or the slow moving donkeys with the gentle eyes climbing up Annapurna. The most beautiful thing in Nepal were the smiles, the smiles plastered on everyone's faces, from the city to the temple to the dirt floored shack. The white teeth gleaming and the bows of the generous, exquisite people I met there. Nepal was so full of smiles. Free smiles.

When we were about halfway through our travels by foot, I fell and badly sprained my ankle. We were days and days away from any hotel or hostel, and several hours from the nearest stop on our trekking route. I hobbled into a tiny village, about the size of a small city block, and sat on the ground and grimaced. I did not know what would become of me. I did not know that a family that had never seen me and would perhaps never see me again would take me into their home, a two room shack with a fire pit in the middle, children giggling and climbing over me, the eldest daughter braiding my "golden" hair over and over again. We stayed for three days until I could walk again, my husband befriending the man of the house and helping him to cut the firewood, me watching the mother cook and sew and carry up water from the river in old plastic buckets, smiling and smiling all the way.

Where is the source of so much infinite smiling? Where does it come from? How do they do it? I believe the answer is meaning. A life of meaning, a mindful life, transcends where you live, how much money you have or lack, how much you accumulate, how much you covet. There is meaning in the ordinary, the dedication we each commit in our lives to something greater than ourselves, in the smallest of actions, in our respect for others. I have so often felt I was born into the wrong culture, the wrong country, the wrong shoes, into a rat race towards nothing, a rat race I cannot imagine participating in. There are few places on earth where I felt as alive and at peace as I did in that shack with my swollen ankle. I do not remember pain or fear. I remember the smiles and the warm tea, the feeling of being instantly and without question part of the human family, part of the natural order of things. I was the woman with the golden hair and the limp, with a backpack full of goodies to share with the children, with my husband so adept at cutting wood and milking the yak. I hope to one day go back and visit my Nepalese family again. I slept so well there.

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