Wednesday, July 09, 2014

On War and Mask Dancing

“O Lord our God,
help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells;
help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain;
help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief;
help us to turn them out roofless with little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst,
blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet!
We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts.
 ~ Mark Twain, "The War Prayer" (
shortened) An anti-war protest, published posthumously, rejected by Harper's Bazaar as "too disturbing."

"Most of the Gazans killed so far have died in their homes."
 ~ Washington Post, "New Hamas rockets reach deep into Israel"

Yesterday was the annual Hemis Festival that everyone-must-see. I'd already been warned by two people that it was worth a miss, but I went anyway. It turned out that there were more tourists in the audience than locals, which isn't a good sign. But it also looked to be an authentic festival, as if I would know the difference. Anyway, photos await.

The highlight of my day was figuring out how to get back to Leh from Hemis. I'd shared a taxi there with a nice group of Israelis and thought I'd hike down the hill and hitch a ride back for the 40km (25 miles) back to Leh. The Israelis passed me standing up in the back of a truck. Other friends drove past in a bus, yelling "what are you doing?" At the main road the first person to pick me up was a young local guy on a motorcycle. He said, "Don't worry. I'm in the military, and this is my place, so don't worry." Then he said it again. Then he kept saying it. By the time he'd said it about 10 times I really started to worry. I thought I smelled a bit of alcohol on his breath, but it wasn't strong as I leaned forward to hear him when he spoke. When we stopped and he insisted that I drive, I got the full breathy dose, I realized he may have been pretty drunk. So I'm driving without my glasses, the sun in my dust-filled, wind-dried eyes, on a new-to-me motorcycle in India on the wrong side of the road with my partially drunk friend and guide on the back. I loved it.

I realized that travel stories like this happen when you leave room for them to happen. If you always book things in advance, or take the easiest way out, you may have a more predictable time, but magic happens when you say, like I did yesterday, "something will work out." And it did! It was a great day.


I've seen this kind of ceremonial dancing before, and I didn't understand it then, either.

Definitely look like Mongolian costumes. Definitely don't know.

These cute young monks were collecting donations as we came in. I've never seen monk hats like these.

The monastery is set in a beautiful, rugged landscape.

Some of the masks are pretty elaborate.

These guys are freaking me out a little. Are they staring at me?

These photos with the intense colors are HDR pics - high dynamic range. It's a setting I can choose.

The two locals who came to watch. OK, there were more than two.

I like this photo.

The monastery itself is pretty impressive.

Come on everybody, give a big hand for the band. Weren't they great?!

I wandered into this kitchen, and like the light coming through the roof.

This black and white version is quite different than the color one above.

This massive pot is about 6 feet across (two meters.)

Monks watching the dance. I love the colors, the fabrics, and their poses.

Ya got me.

I walked the 10km (six miles) down to the main road that goes north to Leh. These prayer flags were between posts.

This bridge crosses the Indus River. More prayer flags.

I'm happy here because I don't yet realize that my new friend Sawang is inebriated. And maybe driving with his eyes closed. I took this as we're driving.

Sawang took me to Thikse Monastery. Beautiful.

Inside one of the prayer rooms.

Impressive architecture.

This is just the top part of a massive two-story Buddha statue.

The view from the monastery. You can see another monastery in the distance on the small mound. There are endless amazing monsteries in Ladakh.

Shey Monastery, with ruins on the very top of the hill.

A panoramic view of the Leh valley from yet another monastery that Sawang took me to.

(The End)

Thursday, July 03, 2014

A painful, mysterious, love-filled gift

"The more we love another person, the more we can sense a potential devastation that could follow from this. We know that we must eventually lose this person, if only at the moment of death. What to do? Protect ourselves by not loving so much? Leave and live in isolation? Adopt a stoic philosophy? Our mind spins. None of these are genuine or satisfying answers. They only distract us from this razor's edge where we feel so sharply pierced by our love and by our vulnerability about where it may lead. Yet we need to feel pierced in this way. It brings us more fully awake and alive."
 ~ John Welwood, "Journey of the Heart"

Six years ago today, July 3, 2008, my Mother died. Here's an excerpt from the blog that I was keeping, written three days before her death, at a time when she was was coming in and out of consciousness.

 "There are many gifts in this process. Hearts open, and people get to places they can't normally access. We dread the thought of death, and most of us refuse to think about it, or worse, unconsciously think that it won't happen to us. But we have a choice - don't wait until it's too late to contemplate the changing nature of life, including your own death. Today's a good day to begin, while you have the luxury of ability and time.

 Lastly, I want to add that when I declared that my "suffering has ended" the other day, I was premature. Because Mom is still so with it, she can communicate when she's in pain or restless or wants to get up, and it pushes all my I-don't-want-Mom-to-suffer buttons. I mean, it REALLY pushes those buttons. Mike and I spent a long time today talking with Mom, and at one point, she said, "I feel really good." We talked about our favorite meals she used to make us growing up, and how caring she was, always worried about us. It was so far beyond anything we could have dreamed about a few days ago that we were both feeling so blessed. Towards the end, though, Mom started getting fidgety and anxious, and then complaining clearly about intense pain in her back, and I just about lost it. It's the one thing that I've always wanted for my mother - that she be happy and not suffer. I've been so motivated by that these last six months, but that's really just been the obvious expression of a lifelong desire for her. Between the supreme exhaustion and sleep deprivation, I was totally overwhelmed and cried, but not like a baby - I cried like an adult who really loves his mother, and is starting to understand that love in a whole new way. That, too, is a gift. A huge, painful, beautiful, mysterious, love-filled gift.

More than ever, I love you Mom.


(The End)