I don’t see things as they are; I see things as I am. When I am not tuned in spiritually and I am wrapped up in myself, I tend to be restless, irritable, and discontent. When my concerns are only about myself, fear can be dominant in my thinking.
The difference between an adventure and a disastrous crazy risk is often my attitude – and judgment. What I take away from any particular experience is similar. I of course often fail to keep that child-like attitude of gratefulness, openness, excitement, faith and wonder and am instead filled with fear, worry, and skepticism.
A lot can be missed in life when you are filled with the wrong thoughts and emotions – like fear.
I recently wrote about a crazy road trip I took from Bangkok to the beach with a whole neighborhood of local Thais. There is one other crazy adventure I took while I was there. I think of it often for much different reasons. There were so many things that COULD have gone wrong or COULD have happened. Fear could have kept me from being compassionate. Fear could have kept me safe in my hotel room. Fear could have made me miss the chance for one of the best memories I have.
I thank God for allowing me that night to make a choice from an attitude of compassion, wonder, and excitement and not from fear and doubt. Because I was in a good place spiritually, I made a decision not from fear, but from possibility and from trusting my judgment. It is too much to say that the little excursion I am about to describe changed my life, but I did learn some important things about life, other people, and myself.
It was about 3am and Koi and I were whispering to one another in the moments after. She grew quieter and suddenly told me she missed her son, her family. And she wanted me to meet them. What?? I didn’t know she had a son. She told me she wanted to go see them (someplace many hours outside of Bangkok) but didn’t have the money for the bus trip and didn’t want to travel alone. Hint. Hint. She also wanted to leave that morning – in about 3 hours. I was suddenly very awake.
A million things passed through my mind in those few seconds it seemed. Nobody will know where I am. I won’t have time to tell anyone where I am going and that’s not a good idea when travelling in a foreign country. What if this is a trick to steal from me or kill me? – I barely know this girl really. What if the bus crashes and I get hurt? Will there be a hospital anywhere near where we are going? I like this girl, but c’mon now – this is too risky! It’s crazy what you will think when someone proposes an action that makes you uncomfortable and has uncertain outcomes. Fear is powerful. And yet sometimes some fear is a good thing. I’ve done some unbelievably stupid things when I haven’t properly assessed reasonable fear.
But I had spent 7-8 days so far with Koi. Did I really think she wanted to harm me? Usually you can tell if someone really cares about you if they get mad at you. Anger can go hand and hand with love at times. So, the book she chucked at me the other day during an argument was a good sign really – right? And the reasonable side of my brain said if she had wanted to bump me off or steal from me, she wouldn’t have been so Machiavellian as to be with me for a week to trick me with a tale of missing family so she could lure me in off to some remote Thai jungle and have me killed.
In any event, I searched my heart and what I really believed I knew about this girl. I could see that she was truly missing her family and son. I didn’t believe it was an act. I trusted her story. So I did a quick prayer to God to guide me through this by helping her. I made a judgment based on my experiences and interactions with her that this trip would be okay. I put my trust in my higher power that by being of service to Koi, I was doing the right thing. I still had some nagging worry, but I went ahead anyway. We headed for the bus-stop and set out.
I honestly have no clue where we were going. I gave her the money and she bought the tickets. North of Bangkok is as much as I can tell you. We travelled about 3 hours I think as it was early morning when we were let off on the side of the dirt road. It was rural and a little hilly and there wasn’t anyone around. I had to fight hard to find the beauty in the scenery around me. Some concern returned that I was like Cary Grant in North by Northwest let off next to a cornfield and soon a crop-duster would come by trying to kill me. What the hell was I doing!
But soon a couple teenage boys came by on motorbikes and she told me to hop on. Ok God, I thought, you’re really testing the limits of this faith thing! And so was she for that matter. But I did as she asked. And we went off into the jungle-like hills down dirt paths until we came to a clearing. There stood a few stilted shacks/houses. This was her home. (These pictures are not her families, but they are close approximations of what they looked like). I knew she was poor. But this was semi-mind boggling. There was one single electrical line coming to ONE of the houses. To add to the surreal nature of what I was experiencing, I heard, in the middle of nowhere hours outside of Bangkok, Michael Jackson’s “The way you make me feel” from his Bad album playing in the house with the electric line. Unreal. No plumbing or running water. Chickens were running around in the dirt. A hundred yards or so away was a river that was their water supply. The “boom box” playing the music was one of their only modern electric appliances/devices. I asked about the stilts and learned that flooding was so common, the “houses” had to be built this way.
I knew immediately I had done the right thing. I was in no danger except from my shock at the poverty. I knew I took so much for granted as an American, but this was eye-opening.
Koi made introductions. I had learned to say “hello” and “thank you” and a few other basic Thai phrases, but mostly I just smiled and tried to play with the younger kids while Koi reunited with her family – and her son who was only a year old. Her father was not present. Nobody else in her family spoke English, so gestures and actions had to suffice. After a while she asked me for some money to buy some food and drinks, which the boys on the motor bikes would go, get (from where I don’t know) and bring back. An hour or so later the boys came back and Koi, her family and I sat on some crude chairs and stumps and ate. They all treated me with polite kindness although communication was obviously difficult – Koi did her best to translate.
As I spent the day there, I felt humbled with how lucky I was to have so much when someone like her had so little. I realized that I was incredibly grateful for this reminder of just how fortunate I am. I was even more grateful that I had had just enough faith that God had removed my fears of taking this trip and that I was able to bring to Koi the joy of being with her son and family. I was very blessed.
As we prepared to leave, her father was walking down the trail with a goose. Road kill. But the family was very excited for this unexpected bounty. I had to inwardly shake my head, not in disgust, but disbelief and yes, pity.
I think of that day now and then. I think how my faith and trust in a God of my understanding overcame my fear. I allowed my desire to be kind to someone else override my fear. As a result I learned some wonderful things about myself and about life. When things seem tough and I’ve had a “bad day”, I sometimes remember that beautiful girl and her family in stilted shacks, no running water, and a dead goose and I reacquire gratitude for the gifts in my life. For even problems can be gifts.