Thursday, March 04, 2010

Wishful sinful

Books at my bedside

When I was watching the Olympics the other day, I was talking about how sick I get of hearing the American anthem played again and again and again. They only play the medal ceremonies if an American wins, and never when anyone else wins. Why don’t they play another country’s anthem every once in a while? Just to fool us into believing that we’re the best at everything? A friend said, “Maybe because the point of the Olympics is cheering on your country.”

I responded, without hesitation, “And if Thailand was on the stand, I’d be pretty excited.”

I’m not Thai, and I never will be, as much as I hope--but it’s crazy how deeply ingrained that identity still is in my psyche. It just makes me think about myself as a child, and all of us missionary kids, and how confused we all must be, and how amazing it is and how much it sucks at the same time. I had my country taken away from me. Twice. And not just my country, but everything that comes along with a country. An identity. The food that speaks to me of home. A whole language.

Lately, when I’m hungry, I’ve been trying to think about what I’m really hungry for, and if I think hard I’m almost always craving a bowl of Thai street noodles, guiteaw nam. Something I absolutely can’t buy in this country, at any price. I can find approximations, but the food that comforts me the most is forever distant. Twelve time zones and $1000 away.

The same thing with certain words. I find myself reaching for concepts that aren’t available in English but still resonate with my core. Phrases like maipenlai, or sanuk, or pai teaw, concepts that explain the fundamental Thai attitude towards life, that it’s something to be enjoyed and not taken too seriously. Or a word like reaproy, that conveys so much more than neatness, but the sense that everything is in its right place, exactly where it’s supposed to be, utterly lacking in chaos. Or lumbak, a word that I didn’t even know wasn’t English for a long time, but means difficult, strenuous, requiring the absolute best of a person.

Thai also has a fantastic concept called jai, which is closest to the English idea of heart. It’s also more than heart, closer to the soul, or the idea of heart center we use in yoga. I find myself associating the ancient Sanskrit yogi words with Thai words, often. In Thai, you don’t say you’re happy. You say deejai, which means, literally, “good heart.” In Thailand, I was forever discovering new conjunctions of adjectives with jai that conveyed different ideas that explained how the heart worked, the different ways hearts and people can be.

I’m doing a horrible job of interpreting the concept. I don’t know how. My point comes back to that passage from Solomon. More and more his wellspring of life becomes something closer to jai. Because the jai is my life’s wellspring, the source from which everything else flows. The more I think about that verse, the more I think that a more accurate translation would be: Protect your jai, for it is the source of your prana.

Now there’s a life philosophy I can get on board with.

1 comment:

wfrenn said...

Wow! You're impressive. Still reading your blog!