|Norbu and I|
“Norbu, where’s my pen?
“Impermanence! It’s gone!”
“Norbu, what’s the date today?”
“Impermanence! I don’t know!”
“Impermanence, impermanence, impermanence…”
Norbu, the monk Dzongkha teacher at my school, favorite topic is on the nature of impermanence whereas it’s my least favorite concept because I find it difficult to internalize. I have gotten use to Norbu always teasing me about impermanence, yet trying to teach me. However, one particular day his teaching on the topic really sank into my heart.
It was a quiet day in the staff room because most of the teachers had gone home for the day. I was completing my report cards at my desk when Norbu took a seat beside me and said, “Hey Man! Dawa (Sonam’s teenage niece who lived with me) is finished with her exams and she will be leaving in a few days to her village, so how are you feeling?”
Giving him an evil eye because I knew that this conversation was going to be about impermanence I sighed, “Well I’ve been distracted with report cards, so I haven’t really been thinking about it, but now that you’ve mentioned it, I feel sad. Thanks!”
Norbu slyly grinned at me and started his lecture, “You know, life is like a dream. Dawa will soon be gone and she will fade into a memory. Weeks will turn into years and from time to time you will wonder how she is doing. Then one day you will be very old and you will barely remember her. Your time with Dawa will seem like a dream. Like it never happened. The same thing with Dawa is probably happening with Sonam and it will surely happen with your memories in Bhutan. Sometimes we have to ask ourselves, was I dreaming? Did that really happen? Nothing stays the same and the past is like a dream. Impermanence!”
Then as quick as he came to hit me with some daily teachings, he ran off saying, “Have a nice day, don’t miss me…” leaving me sitting alone in the staff room frowning, pouting, contemplating and resisting the nature of impermanence.
I knew that there was some truth to his little speech and I felt even more somber wondering if his predicament would come true: Would my unique friendship with Dawa really fade into a memory as if I had been dreaming? Dawa had lived with me for four months and we took care of each other. When she was sick, I would rush her to the hospital and if I had a soar throat, she would make me tea. She taught me how to make curries and I taught her how to make French toast. We were always together; walking, shopping, eating, laughing... She was my best friend, little sister and sometimes I joked that she was even my big baby. I didn’t want all of this to end and turn into memories, but at the same time I knew that Norbu was right-everything is impermanent and I would have to let go of Dawa without resisting the change.
So throughout the week, while we did our usual cooking together, cleaning and drinking coffee around the bukhari, I enjoyed every simple remaining moment and tried to stay in the present. When she started packing, I told myself that this was the nature of life: everything is always changing so there is no need to cling to moments.
However, when her ride came to take her to her village and it was time for us to depart for good, I walked her to the car and I was feeling ok until I heard Norbu’s voice ringing in the back of my head, “This is it, nothing will ever be the same, Dawa will be a memory in a few seconds just like a dream. Impermanence!” Then I could hear myself resisting in the background, “NOOOO.” Errrr I was so disappointed with myself because the tears started to flow as I wished some things could stay the same forever.
I think that she was shocked to see my well put together self silently weeping out of nowhere and she instantly threw her arms around me while I said, “I’m really going to miss you! Please call me if you need anything.”
Unlike me, Dawa gets Buddhist concepts easy and she calmly said, “I’m going to miss you too! Please don’t cry. I don’t want you to be sad, I think that maybe I should stay a little longer.”
“No of course not, I want you to enjoy your time with your aunty. Don’t worry about me! I’m going to be fine. I’m just sad to see you go, but I promise I will be ok. Besides, I will try to stop by Gangtey to say goodbye to everyone, so maybe we will meet again,” I said trying to sound positive.
After a long squeeze, I hurriedly walked away wiping the tears and hoping not to see anyone. Then I felt my arm being tugged back and when I turned around, I was surprised to see that it was Dawa. She ran back to give me one last big hug and for further assurance that I would be ok.
After she left, my home felt empty and lifeless without her. The first few days were strange adapting to living alone once again. I didn’t feel like lighting the bukhari for just one person and I didn't know how to make rice for one. Sometimes out of habit, I would even peek my head out of the room thinking she was there and I would start to say, “Hey why are you so quiet?” But then I would realize that she was gone and I would sigh repeating Norbu’s words, “Impermanence!”
After a week, I really started to embrace the nature of impermanence; I didn’t feel sad or lonely and I just continued with life without resistance. So I was surprised when she called me and inquired, “Are you lonely? I’m thinking that you are lonely, so I want to come back until you leave Bumthang.”
I tried to reassure her, “It’s impossible to feel lonely when I have Norbu and all the neighbors. Also my students are always dropping by. I’m fine! Seriously, you don’t have to come all the way back for me. You will be bored with no school while I’m at work all day. I promise that I’m fine.”
We went back and forth for several long minutes and in the end she made an excuse that she wanted to come back and rewrite some school notes. I started giggling at her excuse and I gave in saying, “As long as I am here, this is your second home, so you are more than welcome to come back, but you don’t have to come back if you’re worried about me because for the last time, I’m fine!”
The next evening she came with a basket of gifts from her aunty: cheese, bread, apples and a hand woven scarf. She explained that the last image of me with teary eyes made her feel terrible and when she told her family they were also worried sick about me. I laughed a little still trying to convince her that I was fine, but I understood how Bhutanese are extremely family orientated and concerned with others happiness. So I thanked her for coming back to check up on me.
Then when it was time for her to leave once more, somehow I felt differently than the time before. I didn’t feel resistance to the nature of impermanence; there was no little voice screaming, “Nooo”. Instead I gave her a big hug and I smiled goodbye accepting that this was part of life. Finally, somehow Norbu’s teachings started to settle into my heart with ease and the tables have turned as I quickly answer Norbus’ mundane questions with his own words, “Impermanence!” and now he occasionally responds, “Errr.”