Saturday, November 18, 2006

A Tree In Khon Kaen

When I was a kid, I remember my mother telling me the story of how she began to feel connected to the earth, how she began to feel a part of a greater scheme of things. It was the day she found her roots.

Her father died when she was only seven years old. He was blind and my mother was the youngest of eight children. He never saw what she looked like but she was the light in his life. He nicknamed his baby Helene "Sunshine". His death broke her heart. While I can't presume to speak for her, I would guess that is the first time she ever experienced that snap, the one that means the cord is broken and we no longer feel safe and secure in the world.

She told me of one day when she went out to the garden as an eight year old child to play, dug her feet into the ground and felt connected once again. The disconnection she felt after her father's death was healed by the simple act of having her feet buried in the earth's dirt.

One day in Khon Kaen, I went for a walk alone. The trail was a beautiful place with rich green bushes and some of the most beautiful flowers I've ever seen in my life. It was cloudy that day, humid and hot. I sat down to drink some water.

Eventually Mom grew up and she was indeed beautiful. She loved horses and green hills and movie stars. Tall and thin with big blue eyes, she looked like Audrey Hepburn. But she was never anyone's "sunshine" again. She married a good, solid practical man who would take care of her and any children they might produce. He wasn't exciting ~ but he was trustworthy.

My mother, her husband and her two children moved from New York in 1957. We left behind all of our extended family. Cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents and lifelong friends of my parents. My father decided that living in another part of the country would be better financially and my mother hated the snow. She dreamed of the palm trees and the bright lights of Los Angeles. Every young girl with working class parents in those days dreamed of being discovered in a soda shop, just like Lana Turner.

They packed up a trailer with their few possessions and headed out on the road. Our life was never the same. With only the four of us, most traditions or rituals of the larger family were gone. It was cold and sterile, perfunctory, performed out of habit rather than desire. Neither of my parents were expressive people. It was all about the practical resolution of daily problems. I don't remember the fun.

The clouds began to thicken and I walked to a tree for shelter. I knew one of those famous deluges would be coming. It can be sunny and bright in Thailand one minute. Ten minutes later, it's raining madly. Ten minutes later yet again, it will be sunny and bright.

I wanted to feel connected, too. Like my mother. I tried her idea every so often when I was a kid. At the beach, in the back yard, in parks ~ like a magic potion, I'd try it. Maybe burying my feet in the dirt would finally make me feel like I was part of the world, like I was connected to something ~ the overall scheme of life. Maybe it would make me stop feeling like an alien.

I put my fingers in the dirt and brought it to my palms. I watched while it fell through my fingers and dripped a steady stream back to the ground. I put a toe in the dirt right there beneath the tree, began to scrape and felt it go under my toenails. I continued to dig.

I saw other families all the time as a kid. On holidays the visitors would come. Grandma, Grandpa, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends. They would gather outside in their driveways and I'd hear the laughing and talking. Finally, I would hear a chorus of "I love yous" and the car doors would slam. The neighborhood would be quiet again. It was then time to close the window and listen once again to my beloved radio and the songs that took me to another world.

I put my other foot into the dirt and continued digging until I'd created a hole large enough to fit both feet in the dirt.

Those families I used to see, I wanted to go with them. I wanted to run away and go home with them. I wanted to feel embraced by others who would guarantee love and joy. We'd be cared for, nurtured and enjoyed. It was my Lana Turner fantasy. We would no longer be a practical problem that had to be endured. It's hard being a burden ~ but children always are. They told us that and they wouldn't lie. Would they? If it wasn't for my brother and me, my father wouldn't have to work so much and my mother would be able to go to college and become someone important. It's what they say and parents don't lie.

I reached into the hole and began to bury my feet. It was a heavy, wet dirt. I brought a palmful of it to my nose and smelled it. By then, the rain had started. I continued burying until my feet were completely covered. A sensation of pulsating warmth flowed up from the earth into my feet, radiating to my calves, to my thighs, to my crotch, to my midsection, to my shoulders, to my neck, to my head, down my arms and into my fingers. It was like a shot of electricity. I was connected. I rubbed my arms and my hands with the dirt.

Time went on and we stayed the same. The fifties became the sixties. My parents weren't big on having friends around. It was just the four of us.. and those practical problems to be solved, work to be done, chores to complete, school to finish. There was no time for frivolity, not even in the magical City of Angels, the Land of Dreams.

And I went out into the world the same way, not knowing where I was going or why. I just had practical problems to solve and I did my best. Was there something more?

Like the end of a lifelong treasure hunt, I discovered the gold coins really were in the buried trunk. And I felt them and touched them and threw them in the air. I danced in circles, laughing like a delighted child. I breathed to the bottom of my lungs for the first time and finally fell to my knees, crying the deep, purging, healing cry of someone who has been in the desert of the soul for a lifetime and finds refuge. My tears mixed with the rain and watered a tree in Khon Kaen.

May you all feel connected and discover the gold coins ~



Pam said...

I loved the balance in your story, the two sides of you. I, too, have found my connection in the earth and try to keep my gold coins safe.

You touch my soul with your words and your courage.

Stephen Newton said...

Beautiful post, Chani. You are touching something deep within you and I feel it as well. Do you think your vision problems have anything to do with your grandfather's blindness?

Ginnie said...

Beautifully written. Now you can start the long and exciting journey forward...being connected to the earth and yet never forgetting your dreams. One thing that has helped me is to realize that my parents did the best that they could and that I did the same when it was my time to be a parent. We are only human and the learning goes on forever.

Anvilcloud said...

What a wonderfully written piece. It was a pleasure to read it on a Sunday morning.

caro said...

Ditto. Thank you.

Cuppa said...

Beautiful Chani, just beautiful. You painted a vivid picture with your words and I could see, smell, touch and feel it with you. Beautiful, just beautiful. Thank you!

Patricia said...

Oh, Chani, such a gift you have given us today...the gift of coming to ourselves, of being grounded in the earth as you were, of finding a place where the disconnections we have felt in the past are healed.

You, my friend, are an exceptionally fine writer/storyteller!

jen said...

what a beautiful story, further showing how your past and present is woven togther and washed brilliant by your homeland.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

This is beautiful. Truly.

I hope it's part of a book because it really needs to be. And we really need to read it and to make it a part of us.

I think you're both a talented writer and a beautiful person. I will read this again because it touches something in me that I haven't been able to express.

Thank you for sharing the gifts of your loving spirit with us.

KC said...

This is a truly inspired post. I love what you said and how you said it.

But, mostly, I feel very happy for you.

Thailand Gal said...

Pam, you would have never convinced me before it happened that it would be possible. It's interesting how things sound like blather until we experience them. :)

Stephen, My grandfather's blindness was due to glaucoma. I do not have that. My left-eye blindness is caused by a very nasty cataract.

Ginnie, I know what you mean. I'm long past the "blaming my parents" bit. I understand they were wounded people, just like me. The older I get, the more I realize that we're all just people. They have their stories as well. Maybe one day, they will both talk to me about themselves. In their day and time, such self-revelation was shameful. But I do want to know them.

Anvil, thank you. I read your blog for the same reason. You are such a wonderful writer!

Caro, you're welcome. I'm glad it speaks to you.

Cuppa, thank you, too! This kind of writing is experimental for me and I'm glad to know it communicates. :)

Thank you, Patricia. :) I try. I like these universal truths because all of us can benefit from them.

Jen, a few friends call me "American on the outside, Thai on the inside." I think it's true. It's home. My past makes sense there because I can see more clearly. That means I can fix stuff. LOL

Heart, it's funny you mention that. I've thought about writing a book when I get to Thailand. Not the, you know... ex-pat blah blah.. but, truly, the desert of the soul, why we experience it (karma aside) and how we begin to see something more.

KC, thank you. So much! :) Thank you for being happy for me.

Peace all ~ and thanks for the lovely feedback. It means the world.


heartinsanfrancisco said...

Do it, Chani. Write the book. It needs to be done.

The desert of the soul can be a beautiful place with just a little water.

Gobody said...

Truly beautiful post Chani, you touched me in many ways that I don't know what to say. You brought up childhood memories as well as recent memories from my interaction with my own children. It's true and terrible at the same time that we feel that children are burden. How life can seem unfair sometimes!

Gobody said...

I forgot to say that I agree with heart in SF that I hope this would be part of a book; it’s much better than many of the books I have read by professional writers. Best luck