“Speech pathology,” I said.
“You mean you study speech therapy?” Chuwanna asked.
“Yes,” I replied. “I want to help people who have difficulties talking to others people. Especially children.”
The English teacher replied in her broken English, “Oh yes, we have many of those here at the school. Many children with many problems. They are very naughty. Sometimes it is a learning disability, but sometimes I think it is because they come from broken families.”
I smiled a sympathetic smile. “But they are so happy when they come to the school.”
“Yes, they are happy at school, but at home it is not always the same. But we have such good luck at Kositsamosorn school. We have CCS volunteers to teach them English. You teach them so much and you make them so happy!”
I didn’t know what to say. How could I explain to Chuwanna that what I have given to her school cannot even compare to everything that she, her students, and her country have given to me? How could I tell her that the students will forget the English word “umbrella” within a week after I leave but the lessons they have taught me about how to live and how to love will last a lifetime? I didn’t have the words to tell her. So I simply smiled and headed off to teach my next class.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about life and happiness. It is always amazing to me how the littlest things can often bring so much happiness while things that many people think will bring them happiness so rarely do. I can find so much joy in a beautiful sunset, a long laugh with a good friend, or a particularly moving piece of music. However, things like good grades, an expensive dress, a new cell phone, or a prestigious campus job bring me so much less satisfaction than I anticipate. After mulling it over for awhile, the only sense I can make out of this phenomenon is this: We as humans were meant to live a certain way. There is a certain kind of life that we find fulfilling in a very deep, real, unexplainable way. It isn’t found in constantly trying to get ahead or prove yourself to the world. It can’t be bought with money, or popularity, or even supreme intellect. It is a life that is built on a foundation of love, respect, and selflessness, and colored with beauty, curiosity, and a sense of wonder about the world.
Although most of the time I find myself caught up in the more unfulfilling aspects of life- stress, competition, frustration, pride, greed, and not having the right pair of shoes to wear, I occasionally catch glimpses of the life I feel like I was meant to live. I have found it in late-night conversations with good friends in the library during finals week when we abandoned our studying to talk about the things that really matter. I have found it on the back of a horse riding through the woods on a brisk fall afternoon. I have found it in the middle of a band concert in a small church in Florida. I have found it in a child’s face when she accomplishes something she thought she could never do.
And most recently, I have found it in Bangkok, Thailand. There is a genuine kind of happiness here that is hard to find in America. The people I have met here aren’t bothered by the fact that they live in a little tin-roof shack by the river. They love eating food from a stand on the side of the road and eating it while engrossed in lively conversation with their neighbors. They are so proud to share their country with us foreigners and the hospitality these people have given to me is unmatched by anything I have seen before. These peoples lives are built on relationships with other people, be it their family, friends, or a stranger on the street. There is a genuine respect among the people here for themselves and each other. They work hard to provide for the things their family needs, but don’t feel the incessant urge to have more. Their happiness is built not on material possessions, but with the love they all have for each other.
I think a lot of this respect comes from their Buddhist beliefs, which are at the very core of the way they live their lives. In Buddhism, all people are equal and all people are holy. Even Buddha himself was only a human. They believe that if you do good to others, good will come back to you, if you do bad, you will receive bad, and if you do nothing, you will receive nothing. They believe that it is futile to dwell on the past. You can’t change it anyway. You must focus on the present because it will determine your future. Tonight we got to meet and talk with a Buddhist monk who explained to us the basics of Buddhism and led us in some meditation. Going through this experience made me more fully realize why the Thai people are the way they are. They have a true reverence for life that is intertwined with everything they do.
It is the children, though, who have really taught me the most. The kids here are just bursting with the zeal for life that only children have. When we walk down the hallways at the school everyday, we are showered with affection from these children. If you thought your dog was excited to see you every day, you haven’t seen anything compared to these kids. They love us, even though we are different than them- even though we don’t share their language, culture, religion, appearance, or economic status. It makes me wonder what the world would be like if we all were a little more like this. This kind of affection, generosity, and love is meant to be the basis of all human relationships. If we all could give and receive this kind of affection regardless of our differences, I think we would be amazed at what we could accomplish.
Travel has a way of stretching the mind. The stretch comes not from travel’s immediate rewards, the inevitable myriad new sights, smells and sounds, but with experiencing firsthand how others do differently what we believed to be the right and only way.
- Ralph Crawshaw