Tuesday, January 31, 2012


I pass a beautiful Buddhist temple on my way to and from work each day. It's set back on a few acres of lawn on what's really a very busy road. About a quarter mile further sits a busy plaza with a commuter parking lot, a donut shop, a grocery store, a gas station, a karate studio and a bank or two. Typical American suburbia, ten miles or so outside DC. And every so often, I spot one of the Buddhist monks walking home from the grocery store.

He's an older gentleman, the monk I've seen, and his exposed shoulder and arm are far muscular than what we expect on men of his age. In the summer he wears his draped turmeric-hued cloth and nylon strap athletic sandals. In the winter he wears his turmeric cloth with a big red parka, and wool hiking socks with his athletic sandals.

He's an anachronism: his layered dress, his geographic place, his two arms of groceries on an empty sidewalk abutting a six-lane street that leads straight into the capital of the free world. Even the few pedestrians that carry out their groceries by hand utilize pushcarts, and here comes the gentleman in orange, walking without hurry or apparent strain, bare legs stepping into the January wind.

image via Mamboman1

We all have stories, of course, ordinary and tragic and lucky and there-but-for-the-grace-of- here we are, each landing in a place with a tome of tales propping us up where we stand. The monk's are more evident, perhaps; because he doesn't wear jeans or text while he walks; because he looks serene in the blistering cold; because the clothes that would be costume to you or me are his natural attire, and so I wonder: what is his story? What brought him from his homeland to live his faith as a visible minority? Or has he always lived here, and that Buddhist community is far greater than I ever imagined?

We all have stories, of course. We have back stories and side stories and repressed stories and exaggerated stories and those ones you've told so many times that they develop their own script and you can't be sure any longer they're really true.

I wonder about the monk and I love memoir blogs so I can greedily collect your stories and most of us wear jeans and spend our time looking like each other but inside, behind our eyes, are prologues are all different--

--and I find them fascinating.


This post is brought to you by my participation in the From Left to Write book club. I loved the latest selection, The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philipp Sendker, in which protagonist Julia travels to Burma to search for her missing lawyer father, and discovers much more about him than she expected. Join From Left to Write on February 1 as we discuss The Art of Hearing Heartbeats together. As a member of From Left to Write I received a copy the book. All opinions are my own.

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