My God, It’s full of stars!”
-Dave, 2001: A Space Odyssey
One of the coolest things about being a PCV is having the opportunity to talk about ideas, thoughts, perspectives, and viewpoints with people who have never been provided the opportunity to consider such things. We are also given the opportunity to explore these same ideas from a totally different perspective than our own if we are able to listen.
I’m not talking about the classroom, either. I’m talking about everyday conversations with friends.
It’s almost as much for me as it is for them. Having to break an idea down to its component parts, look at it, translate it, and spit it back out sheds new light on it. It helps me understand it more on a fundamental level. I can see all the pieces laid bare and figure out different ways to assemble them, all the possible constructions and meanings.
I can see the essence of it more clearly;
The other day someone asked me what heartspace meant, because I had it written on the white board in my house.
I asked her, do you ever feel sad for people that you never knew, that you will never know? Do you ever feel their pain almost as if its your own? Do you ever think about people from history, from an age hundreds of years before you were born, and feel their suffering?
I told her that it’s that place where you feel connected to everything. People, trees, flowers, ants, dirt, dogs, lightning, blades of grass. Yesterday, today, tomorrow.
Maybe she understood and maybe she didn’t, but having to explain it this way shed new light on it.
Recently, I was having a conversation with a friend about the different ways in which we view relationships.
From what I have seen, heard, and experienced myself, Thai relationships are remarkably traditional. Monogamy is the standard. Trust is hard to earn and hard to keep. Cheating is rampant, even expected. Oftentimes when I ask why someone isn’t coming to an event, or going on a trip, the response is แฟนไม่ให้ไป, which means their partner won’t let them go.
I told my friend that I believe the best thing you do for someone you love is to let them be free, to let them choose for themselves what they want. Trying to force or compel someone you care about to do something you want is the antithesis of love, in my opinion.
The analogy that I have been using for a long time is that of a butterfly alighting on your hand. If you close your hand around the butterfly to try and keep it from getting away, you’ll crush it. If it was meant to stay, it will. If it wasn’t, holding it prisoner will only prolong suffering for both of you. You cannot make it stay without destroying it, without clipping its wings and changing it into something else.
At the end of the day, it will always leave. After a month, a year, 40 years, a lifetime. Impermanence shows itself in all things.
She thought about it for a minute and then remarked that I was weird. When I asked her why, she said something like, you don’t want to compel others but it seems like you are always trying to compel yourself.
This unexpected insight stopped me in my tracks. I didn’t have a response besides, you’re absolutely right.
One day I was sitting in the car on the way to get coffee and having a conversation with my friend who was driving. We were talking about relationships. She, a gay female, was talking about some of her personal observations about common behaviors among Thai women.
She used a lot of not-very-flattering words, like งอแง (childish), งี่เง่า (foolish), and โง่ (silly). She told me that Thai women are overly sensitive. They’re prone to sulking (ขี้งอน), jealousy (ขี้หึง), and sudden changes of mood.
I didn’t agree or disagree, mostly just listened. We did agree, however, that if you have a problem with your partner, you should talk to them about it. Otherwise, even though you may feel better about it over time, the problem will likely continue to arise again and again.
As we sat having this conversation a strange feeling came over me. It was not an entirely new feeling. I experience it from time to time and it’s always kind of exhilarating yet disorienting at the same time;
Sometimes, I think about how I spend a majority of my day comfortably speaking a foreign language and it elicits the strangest sensation — an odd combination of excitement, and a strange fear at how malleable our brains are.
Less than two years ago these sounds had absolutely no meaning to me. Now, I can sometimes speak with people in a way that feels so natural, at least as far as everyday conversation goes.
It makes me wonder; what kind of things that I experience now, which make no sense to me or have no meaning, will be an essential or even totally natural part of my life in the future? What things are there that I am completely unaware of that I’m missing entirely? Or things I wouldn’t even consider as possible at all?
I don’t mean just language, either. Ideas, philosophies, worldviews, opinions, deeply-held beliefs. Anything is possible, and the implications of that realization are simultaneously wonderful and terrifying in scope.
It’s like staring out into a vast open space. Awe-inspiring yet overwhelming in its magnitude, like a mind incapable of comprehending itself.