We are standing in the middle of the road while the new rain hits the dried gravel. As the dust is stirred by the falling water, the air is filled with a smell almost as good as puppy breath. Down here in the valley, we can see the lighting flashing over the mountains on either side of us. The thunder claps, garungarung, over the ridge to the west. Everyone else is in the dark house sleeping. The power has gone out twice and the second time, it didn't come back on. Debbie and I are just arriving home from a small fire in the soccer field. We prayed to Shiva and watched the lights of the prison sparkle in the foreground as the brilliant sky moved closer and closer.
My down jacket is soaked and my hair is dripping with Nepali rain. I feel like I could stand here in the road, forever, being showered at the top of the world. The cold is invigorating and I feel pleasantly uncomfortable; worried that Auntie will wake up from the rain pounding her roof and unknowingly lock us out. The downpour comes heavier now and we can't hear each other shouting, even though we huddled together, with our faces only inches away. The other practitioners in the house are sure to wake up now. We run, screaming with delight, through the gate, grabbing at our water bottles, tooth brushes and my ipad, sitting mildly protected under the patio cover.
Nothing can be heard in the house over the screaming tapping of the droplets as the thunder spits them out of his angry mouth. Our roommate wakes up as we come into the room, but she hears nothing we say to her as she winces into our headlamps. W are changing our wet clothes, and Auntie slides into our door, her tired eyes looking for the outlets. She is unplugging everything so that the power surge doesn't fry our electronics. I sit on my bed to write and realize that this is the first time I've felt anything move me to do so in three days. I look out the window and a flash of lighting squeals across the sky. This storm feels good in me.
Lal Bahadur Lama died two days ago. I was at his house for four hours of his struggle but I didn't see him take his last breath. I knew it was coming, but there were too many people keeping him from sleeping and I couldn't stand to watch. I was so very tired myself. His vitals were so low that even my pulse oximeter refused to wake up and take them. As he lay in his daughters arms, it's little red lines stared back at me saying, "Let's go home. There's nothing more to be done here. I'm tired. It will all be over when we wake up."
It was over when I woke up and I stopped by in the morning to see his wife. She sat against the side of the house, watching her daughter wash her face at the spigot. "Ama, have you eaten?" I asked her.
"Just a little milk tea. He's gone and I didn't go with him."
I hugged her while she stayed stiff in my arms. I knew it wasn't super appropriate, but I couldn't help myself. I went to clinic for two hours before she called, asking for Debbie and I to come to her house since they were moving the body. I walked down the street, not knowing what to expect since this family was Christian. I'd seen the marigold cremations at Pashnupatinath and another under the bridge a short walk from Aunties. I assumed his body would be cremated to release the soul, but with some sort of Nepali Christian flair.
Instead, I walked into a room with a wooden coffin. The box was painted white and had a red cross brushed on either side. It tapered at the top and the lid was partially opened. Two rings of marigolds encircled the lid but the fragrance in the room came from the wild roses that everyone held. "Sister," I heard Lal's daughter say. She handed me a bunch of wild roses and I walked toward the coffin. I was stoic until I looked inside and saw his face. There was cotton stuffed into his nostrils and his eyes were closed. He had a white cloth covering his body and his head floated in roses.
I used to be an artist. I'd walk to the Monkey Temple and paint the mountains. I sculpted animals too. I made a life sized, spring-loaded elephant for the king; when it was wheeled in front of him, it's trunk swung up in a salute. Now I don't do anything. I can't draw or sculpt anything for you because of my asthma. When I get better, I will make you the most beautiful drawing of an elephant. I would make you something beautiful now, if my life wasn't over.
Then the tears came. The women wailed and some fell over. I sat on the floor and held a grandmother as she moaned at the sky for her baby. "Babu! Babu!"
It was time to go and Lal's son and nephew took the head of the coffin while a few other men helped. It was carried out to the road and we walked in a procession down to the dry riverbed. A line of us, like ants carrying a huge piece of bounty back to the hill; we crossed the riverbed and landed on a small ridge, just large enough to fit a six-foot-deep hole. A few men jumped inside and others handed the box down to them. On top of the box, they placed his folded comforter and a suitcase of his things.
A pastor stood at the head of the grave, next to a woman with a stick-cross ringed with marigolds. He led the circle of people in Nepali versions of Christian songs while I sat on the edge of the ridge by myself. When they were done, another daughter called me over and put a scoop of dirt into my hands. "Throw it in," she instructed.
Six Buddhist monks and their teacher were back at the house. Lal's son and nephew are Buddhist and another ceremony was setup to honor him in that way as well. The monks read chants in Lama language, from old books, while their teacher painted incense sticks with creamy fat and burned them. A foam mat was laid next to the setup and Debbie and I sat there, cross-legged with our hands in prayer and meditated on the chant. A daughter served milk tea around the patio and in the various rooms of the house. The Christians gathered by the goat and chicken house.
It was late and we needed to get back to work. We excused ourselves and left. The afternoon was busy, but wonderful as random bursts of laughter kept breaking out between our patients. I found myself laughing and enjoying the time at the clinic and my brain occasionally wondered if that was okay to do. The evening brought the Shivaratri festival, with a bonfire and folksongs in front of the house. Auntie kept us all laughing by stealing wood from the neighbors and when that ran out, she threw dead thorn bushes on top.
I didn't realize it until just now, but I have been in need of a good storm. The world outside is matching the way that I feel. So much beauty. So much tragedy. This is the life that we all share together. My hair is wet and I cannot sleep. And I love it all.
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