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Perfect moments and travel

Michelle Welsch

Sitting in puja. Sunlight shines gold on the poinsettia tree outside. Coolness has started to embrace the morning air. Now, the monks' chanting hum pierces the quiet sunrise.

Each of their faces have become familiar to me. After careful study and repetition, I’ve learned most of their names.

I watch the little ones lose attention. The bigger monks can maintain focus for awhile longer, but they’re still fading in and out. A plastic Coke bottle filled with water is passed around as eyes dart to the clock above the entryway. Elaborate and detailed murals frame the walls, bright and colorful after years of welcoming worshippers. Aqua, teal, red, yellow, turquoise, rust. 

Rhubten wanders up and down the aisles keeping troops in line with intimating glances and the occasional swat on the back of a bald head. Horns blare, cymbals clash, drums echo throughout the room. Butter lamp candles flicker to the vibrations of the drums. Grains of rice stick to my feet.

Some of the younger monks peer about. They are smiling, making jokes, hitting their neighbors, poking their friends. I wonder who will be here next year, how many will leave. Some will be sent to India to study, others will have family situations that pull them away. Others will run.

I think about the role of such religious institutions in modern day society — part orphanage, part worship center, part educational facility. It’s almost like a frat house on dharma.

So many talented, bright boys. Questions circle in my mind: Who will be constant? Who will remain year after year, growing old inside the monastery walls? How many will start families and businesses? Will they be successful? Happy?

The incense pot burns juniper needles and swings through the air. Pemba circles the proximity of the building, entering his outside room. He’s been here the longest, somewhere around forty years.

Fleshy arms and delicate hands betray innocence and knowledge of the world, evidence of lives devoted to religious text. Palden’s voice reenters the chant, a prepubescent pitch soaring an octave above the rest. Long books of paper are traded from one hand to the next. Shymphen's Adam's apple undulates in his throat. Judging from the tone and changed rhythm, it's a new prayer. 

A cold stone ground meets me as I adjust my weight and shift to prevent my foot from falling asleep. My pink and green kurta is less foreign to me now. I feel like a princess when I wear it, and I do so proudly, along with the green necklace I’ve been given by the grandmother who owns a shop down the hill. I feel welcomed into this community. 

I used to be very fearful of the word perfect. There is always something to change, always something to make better, always improvements to be had. But here, sitting in the monastery, I try to hang on to this one moment that is --- perfect.