After losing a cousin and an old friend within 36 hours of each other this past weekend I've been thinking again of a place in Isaan where I've stood and said farewell to spirits passed over; a spot already mentioned in a piece about a friend's cousin dying of AIDS posted April. It seems like as good a time as any to share about the next visit, so here it is:
Shortly before a trip to Thailand a number of years back a beloved recently-retired co-worker went off her meds and as a result committed suicide in her home, leaving many of us both shocked and saddened. Because there was no real service for her some people didn’t feel the closure they wanted to the tragic event. Having already planned a trip to Isaan I mentioned to my boss I was going to look for some peaceful spot in the countryside outside of Bangkok where I could stop, say a prayer for her and wish her spirit safe passage.
This farewell was on my mind as the swaying train carried me through the green Northeast, but after arriving at my destination the excitement of visiting with my friend and being there pushed it into the background… until the day we ventured by scooter the 40-some-odd kilometers to his family home, a tranquil oasis surrounded by the family’s rice fields, coconut palms and lush greenery.
After a short visit with his family, my friend noticed that the afternoon light coming through the vents in the cinder block living room wall was turning gold as the afternoon drew to a close, and reminded me that I’d wanted to walk again out through the fields to the nearby reservoir to see the sunset. Getting off of my butt seemed like a good idea, as I’d still not gotten all of the feeling back into it after riding so long on the back of the scooter from town, and sitting on the tile floor while visiting hadn’t helped at all.
We took a different route this time, and when we turned west a few minutes later I saw what I immediately knew was “the spot” to say goodbye to my old friend. I had seen it once before, a few months previously, but it had slipped my mind. I said to my Thai friend “Will you wait for me here? There’s something I need to do for a few minutes.” He asked what, and I briefly explained why I was pausing along our walk. He nodded his understanding and I made my way down the bank we were walking along, down to the edge of a side bay of the main reservoir.
Stretching to the far horizon were thousands of lotus leaf pads, highlighted here and there with blossoms and buds, the buds reaching skyward from the now rose-colored water as if offering a wai to the heavens. The leaves floating on the illuminated surface still held rain drops from the afternoon’s rain that now sparkled like diamonds in the sunset. It was silent except for my own heartbeat and the soft gentle drone of the insects, and I spoke to my late friend Evelyn for a few minutes, the tears coming freely as I wished her a better life on her next journey.
I turned to head back up the bank and saw my friend still standing there, watching me but not saying a word. When I reached him he looked into my red eyes and silently took my hand as we walked the rest of the way to where we had gone before, the main shore of the reservoir.
After standing there quietly for a few minutes he gave my hand a gentle squeeze and asked “You better now?” “Yes, thanks” I said, “That was just what I needed.” He looked up at me and asked “If I die, will you come here and do this for me?” “Of course,” I replied, somewhat surprised at his question “but I’d rather not think about that right now. You have many, many more years ahead of you.” “Who know?” he asked, and we turned to walk back to his home, his family and dinner. It was a walk, a talk and a memory I've been reminded of far too often as family and friends have passed away since.