Life is strange and mysterious how it brings people in and out of one’s life. When I came to Bhutan, I didn’t know one single Bhutanese person and I never imagined that I would quickly become part of a little Bhutanese family. There was no way to foresee that there would be a little eight-year-old boy who would capture my heart and a dear friend who would teach me many life lessons. I had no idea that as fast as they entered my life and brought me joy, they would exit my life and I would be overcome with sadness to say goodbye. For life is filled with change and movement... always embarking us on a new journey...
The day that I had been dreading for months finally came last month. I ran up to Sonam’s house for our daily luncheon together anticipating the news. Each step to the final 107 steps that led to her house brought me closer to tears and turned my stomach upside down. As I reached the top of the mountain and made my way into her house, I took a deep breath and tried to act calm. In the most normal voice that I could possibly pull off, I immediately asked her, “So what did the letter say? Are you going?”
I had never seen her so somber as she tended to the boiling tea on the stove and I knew the answer before she could say, “Yes, my visa for Canada has finally been approved. Now I just have to get my leave date from the education office and I will soon be moving to Canada to be with Tashi (Sonam’s Bhutanese husband who lives in Canada).”
I started to zoom around the kitchen doing nonsense stuff turning my head in every direction except towards her so that she wouldn’t see my eyes glossing over with tears. I tried to sound as peppy as possible saying, “Congratulations! That’s great news, but no rush right? You have plenty of time to pack and ease the news to Jimmy…” I tried to continue the conversation and be supportive, but my heart was bursting with sadness over the thought of no longer having my best friend with me everyday at school and no longer having little Jimmy buzzing around me all day long, which he had become like a nephew to me. I could feel a knot in the back of my throat growing with every ticking second and my nose started to scrunch up as I desperately tried to fight back the tears that were about to take over my face.
Sonam had never seen me cry before and I didn’t want my tears to make her feel sad about moving because I knew first hand how much courage/support is needed to uproot your life when you heart says to do so. So I hid the waterfall that started to pour out of my eyes by keeping my back turned towards her and I pretended that I had to go to the bathroom really bad! I stayed in the bathroom for several long minutes silently weeping into wads of toilet paper while hoping that she thought that the reason I was in there for so long was due to too much chili for breakfast (most Bhutanese people eat chili with everything).
I wasn’t ready for my happy, perfect life that I had just created to change once more. For about six months, I practically lived with Sonam, Jimmy and Dawa and I thought about how different my life in Bhutan was going to be without my friend who took me under her wing and her little nephew who made me laugh everyday. My mind swam around and around: I wondered where Dawa would live when Sonam left (Dawa is Sonam’s 17 year-old niece who has lived with Sonam for 4 years and attends a high school nearby). I worried about how little Jimmy would adjust without his Aunty Sonam who he calls mommy because Sonam raised him since he was a toddler. I felt sad thinking about how difficult it might be for Sonam and Jimmy to be separated for this moment in time.
In the bathroom, I consoled myself for a few minutes and then turned the focus on my dear friend. I thought about how I could make the transition easier for her, Jimmy and Dawa. I pondered about how I could make Sonam feel great about moving to Canada and how I could help out with the move. I reminded myself that everything happens for a reason and that there were valuable life lessons to be discovered from this experience. I also thought about how excited her husband must have been to know that he would soon be reunited with his true love/best friend. Thus, it took me several minutes, but I was able to shift my energy, stop sniffling and put my messy face back together.
Finally, when I came out of the bathroom, I was nervous that Sonam would suspect that I had been bawling my eyes out. I tried not to look at her so she wouldn’t notice my new puffy eyes because I truly wanted to be a supportive friend after all the kind things she had done for me. Whether she knew that I had been crying or not, she kept quiet and we resumed our usual afternoon routine: sitting outside on the porch side by side eating lunch, drinking tea and gazing at the mountains. After lunch, I told her all the cool things that she would experience in Canada, such as tasting a McDonalds hamburger for the first time, riding a rollercoaster, seeing a 3D movie at a theater, etc. I could see her fill up with excitement and we both seemed to perk up a bit as we laughed about how many different types of cheeses she could buy in Canada.
I learned that when I set aside my sadness about saying goodbye, I am filled with optimism and happiness for my friend’s new chapter in life. I also become truly joyful for Sonam and Tashi to finally be able to live together again after three years of waiting for her visa; I have seen how much they love each other and how they have been patiently, yet eagerly waiting for this moment. So it's pleasing to see it finally come true!
Moreover, sometimes I even get giddy picturing Sonam shopping in large Canadian supermarkets discovering hotter chilies than the ones we eat in Bhutan. Furthermore, one of the best parts about Sonam moving, was all the fun we had staying up late brainstorming about different business ideas that she could start up in Canada to introduce Bhutanese culture to Canadians. We would bubble up in excitement about what one could do with all the money our ideas would generate, such as building libraries in Bhutan.
I view Sonam moving to Canada as something positive and we have spent hours getting carried away laughing and speculating about all the magnificent things that await her. However, as much as I was supportive, I can’t claim that inside I was always so cheery and rosy about her moving because it hurts to say goodbye, especially when I unexpectedly found out that little Jimmy moved while I was away during summer break (he moved to be with his grandma and biological mom). Fortunately, overtime the tears slowly retreated as I started to grasp the beginning of my new Buddhist life lesson: The nature of impermanence! To be continued…