All posts by James Boyce

About James Boyce

The journey is never about the destination. You hear it all the time, but guess what, it's true.

The Power Of The Positive Flow

When I find myself in times of trouble
Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be
And in my hour of darkness
She is standing right in front of me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be
Let it be, let it be
Let it be, let it be
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be

I stood outside in the yoga class and listened as a young woman told her friend, “well if it’s meant to be, it will be.” As I always do, the words from the Beatles above filled my head. “Let it be.” One of the lessons I have learned on the journey is that indeed, it is often to let things be.

But there is a second level of the process of more to it than being a passive observer of your life, and this is another very important lesson that I think gets lost in the desire to be in the flow, and to let things happen. I have learned this the hard way as well.

It’s almost a two-step process – especially for Westerners. We live in a society with technology at our fingertips. We’ve modified the organisms of the food chain. We feel that we are in total and complete control of our destiny and of the world around us. We’re not. We need to understand that as much as we think that we have controlled the world – the world still has mysteries and secrets that we will never understand.

Usually, this then translates, in yoga studio lobbies, to men and women talking about other men and women and debating the outcome of a relationship. It usually involves party A who has been trying too hard to force the relationship with party B whom they’ve either been dating, been wanting to date, been wanting to marry or procreate.

Faced with obstacles and frustration, they then declare that “if it’s meant to be, it will be.” It’s as if they have decided that it’s out of their hands and in the universe’s. This is, in my mind, a simple bastardization of the concept of flow and the role it plays in our lives.

To me, to be in the flow is first to listen. You have to understand what is happening around you, and most importantly, within you. You have to eliminate the chatter of the world and most importantly, the chatter within you. You might think that the reason you are nervous / scared / anxious about an issue or person is clear-cut and simple – it almost certainly isn’t and if you think you can see and understand what you are feeling and why without serious quiet and introspection, I’d be careful.

Let’s say you are deciding what you want to do for a new career. You need to think about it and ponder the pro’s and con’s in a logical way. How much money will you make? Where will you live? You will not become a yoga teacher by chance – it takes conscious action.

Once the input has been entered, then it’s time to sit down, meditate and think about it. How does it feel? What does it look like? What direction can you give yourself with the input entered?

If it feels right still, then here’s the important part – the power of positive flow.

I described it once to a friend in Burma last year like this.

Imagine you are standing on a river bank and the water is moving by you. You won’t get anywhere if you just stand on the river bank. The water is not going to come out and get you and pull you in.

You have to step into the water.

Then, you have two choices.

You can go against the current. And here I often think of my friends who are lawyers, and are miserable being lawyers (not all are, but a lot seem to be.) They turn into the stream and trudge hard against the current. They try to swim and fight upstream. They won’t succeed.

So you turn the other way, you are in the river and you let the river take you.

Here’s where positive flow comes in.

The river will take you but you will get there faster if you move with the river. If you have ever swum downstream in a river that’s moving fairly fast, you know that a leisurely swim moves you quickly – it’s almost as if you are flying down – that’s what you want to do.

If the man or woman you are interested in moves to another city, you can’t simply hope it will work out. It’s going to take real work and real effort. I have learned this recently with this wonderful woman in my life. It’s work to talk and communicate and share – more work than I have experienced before. It’s not just simply going to happen.

I also learned a lesson a few years ago. A woman I really enjoyed was flying to South Africa and the schedules got topsy turvy and I wasn’t going to be there for much time at all when she was going to be there. I debated changing my ticket home (I was on a business trip with a good friend.) My friend advised me not to. “If it’s meant to be, it will be.” And I left. The last email that the woman flying in sent was “Wait, we’re not even going to have dinner?”

I should have stayed.

So now, I feel that it’s a combination of swimming and floating. Of listening and acting. Of holding and letting go. The right place for me is a pulsing between the two. I listen now to myself and to the people important to me.

I always make sure that I am in the river. And I always make sure that if I am headed in a direction that feels right, I don’t mind floating and watching the world move by me.

But I also don’t mind putting my head in the water and slowly helping the river push me.

Malaysia Airlines 370 And The Unknown In A Known World

Screen shot 2014-03-21 at 1.04.04 PMOver a week ago, Malaysia Airlines 370 disappeared, leaving more almost three hundred people presumed dead and families and friends in an unimaginable limbo. How could this happen, in this day and age, the pundits and t.v. talking heads exclaim and wonder. How could this happen and a plane simply disappear?

“It just doesn’t make any sense,” they cry.

The news coverage has become increasingly more dramatic and the search for the plane keeps getting wider and wider. The plane could be anywhere. It could be, but there is also the real possibility that it will never be found. Some of the ocean that it may have flown over is miles deep.

It may indeed just be gone.

I have watched with greater and greater fascination as the news coverage becomes frantic, panicked almost, as collectively the talking heads seem to be facing the fact that they may have to entertain the fact that we will never know what happened.

Never. Ever. Know. This will take conspiracy theory to an-as-yet-unseen level of crazy. When historical events happen that we do know what happened, Elvis died in his bathroom, JFK was shot, the Twin Towers fell, people around us generate increasingly crazy theories of what really happened, when what really happened was right in front of you. Imagine if they never find the plane. Ever.

In our world with technology and advanced communication, it appears impossible for some, well, many people, to understand that mysteries can still happen. Things in life can not always be found or solved. This is a glaring example in our face that despite our advances, we still have not conquered the world around us. We are passengers, not pilots, in the universe.

Fifty or a hundred years ago, for most of the history of man on earth in fact, there was an acceptance that the mysterious happened. There was an appreciation that boats leave ports or planes leave the ground and don’t return. Explorers walked into the jungles of Africa and never walked out. Life held a certain mystery – a certain uncertainty if you will.

We’ve lost that over the past few decades. We believe that through hard work and ingenuity, not to mention GPS tracking systems and being able to hold more computer power in our hand than powered a Lunar Module, we have conquered life and the world around us. We haven’t. Despite all the tools and technology around me, the world around me that I enter and explore and try to understand is a wonderful mix of knowns and unknowns.

There are so many things that I can’t explain. How I can feel the presence of my father when he passed away so many years ago. How my best friend knows exactly when to call me. I have been fortunate enough to stand outside on the plains in Africa, in pure quiet, and gaze in wonder at the animals. I have watched the sun rise and filter through the canyons of the buildings in New York City.

The more I explore and the deeper I dive into the world around me, the less I seem to know and the more I am amazed by the mystery of the world. I have come to accept the not knowing more and more but I’m not sure everyone else has. There are voices out there like this regarding the plane. A commercial pilot who simply believes something happened, the pilot turned towards the nearest airfield and didn’t make it.

I greatly feel for the families of those who were or are on the plane. The best ending is that indeed they are on some remote Central Asian runway and are safe. They may be. Or they and the plane may be gone. How long I wonder will the networks stay with a story that has no ending? How will they handle the fact that not everything can be explained or located?

I imagine as the days and weeks continue, they will slowly grasp the concept. I imagine that some will look at it as an important insight into the world around them while others will still be shocked and confused that something like this could possibly happen in our world.

Be Present in a World of Constant Connection

presentThe bus from Yangon to Mandalay was packed and I was the only foreigner on it. As such, I was given a seat up front, among the monks dressed in their dark orange robes. Slowly we made our way north on the toll way. In Myanmar, there aren’t any radio stations or satellite radio to be played as the miles crept by. The country has the lowest mobile phone penetration in the world after North Korea and, well, considering that that country is on permanent lockdown, Myanmar has the lowest mobile phone penetration of any country where you can actually buy a phone.

This means as the miles roll by, the people on the bus start to converse and talk. The conversations start muted, whispers from two people sharing a thought or secret and then they slowly built. By the time we were an hour out of Yangon, people were standing in the aisles, talking, laughing and sharing snacks. By the time the bus stopped for lunch, everyone piled out together and shared tables at the the roadside restaurant.

I thought of that trip last year as I sat at the airport in Boston recently. All around me were my fellow passengers on the journey, glued to their phones and computers, listening to music and shut off from the world. There wasn’t a single conversation happening around me. No one had met anyone or shared a story of their day. No snacks were being pulled out and traded.

In Myanmar, they are anxious for the chance to buy the latest phone. They lament the lack of Internet and how slow it is when it does exist. They wonder how much better their lives would be if they had more wifi, more connection and more technology.

In the States, I don’t think that collectively we understand the impact of technology on our lives. I have learned a lot during my yoga practice about being present, about being on the mat. At one of my favorite yoga studios in the world, there is often a sign on the blackboard about how you can’t do anything tomorrow and you can’t do anything yesterday, today’s the day.

We speak in the Internet and the ability to be in touch with everyone in our collective worlds as being “connected.” Partially, that’s true. The technology and the platforms that are at our fingertips do make it easier to stay in touch with family, friends and business colleagues – especially the ones that are at a great physical distance from us.

But it comes at the cost of disconnecting from where we are now. At the airport in Boston, I watched as people messaged, emailed and called people who were not around them physically. I realized that every person around me was trying to connect electronically with a person or a place – they all were trying to be somewhere else, or with someone else.

When a hundred people gather to get on a plane, and everyone is trying to be somewhere else, there is no chance of true connection. There is no chance to meet someone interesting or perhaps, meet a new partner or even future spouse. My parents met in Washington, D.C. at the airport. My mother was flying up to New York for the weekend and my father was heading home to Boston. Would they have even met if they had both had their heads down texting friends? I doubt it.

The advent of wearable technology, Google Glasses and the like, will make the situation even worse. At least when people have to look at their phones or computers, there is the chance that that they might make eye contact with someone. If they are wearing their phone, that low chance is completely gone.

In Myanmar, they anxiously await lower prices for cell phones and improvements in the Internet. All that does is make me want to return there before it happens so that I can enjoy a people and a culture that is still truly connected.

How to Live with Questions Instead of Hunting for Answers

questionsI am a child of the West. More specifically, I am a child of the United States and the mentality of answering a question is deeply-ingrained in me. I often think back to when I was in school, third or fourth grade and the teacher asked a question. I can still see the class, all boys, in sport coats, dress shirts and ties as we collectively raised our hands, we knew the answer. We wanted our teacher to know that we knew.

Someone was picked and the answer was given and then, it was on to the next question. When I worked on presidential campaigns, John Kerry in 2004 and Bill Richardson in 2008, I would sit at the edges of the rooms as the press asked questions. Q&A sessions are the core of journalism. You couldn’t possibly just have a “question” session where a question was left to float and linger; nor have there been many great ‘answer’ sessions where everyone gathers around and shares an answer to a question that was never asked.

We grow up and we want the answers. Why does she love? Why did she stop? Why did this happen or that? We hire therapists and read the books. We seek answers in the stars, our friends, and our family members. Today, in the world of electronic connection, there has to be an answer to every text; there has to be a response to every post and every email.

Not only that, we often read the simplest of pieces of communication over and over for an answer. We want to know why the person sent it; what’s the logic for the use of wink and not a smile. We pull layers off of layers and try and see what lies underneath. We need to find the answer.

Almost two years ago, I set out on my own journey to find out what happened to my father who had died in Southeast Asia in 1984. This was also less than a year after my mother had died in my arms in a hospice in Arizona. I set out with a mission. The impetus for my leaving was  a dinner I had with two close friends in Cape Town, South Africa while on a business trip there. “Go” they each told me, “go find out. It’s what you need to do.” I remember sitting at restaurant, as the waiters bustled about. I remember the feeling of the crowd and the room. I remember thinking, ‘yes I will go.’ So I went.

I learned an enormous amount on my journey. The journey concluded with me being back in that same restaurant last week while back in Cape Town on another business trip. I sat there and thought about what I had learned and what I hadn’t.

I left on my journey with my Western sense of “I need to find the answers” fully intact and front and center. I thought if I worked a bit harder, if I went to one more place that my father had gone to back then, if I stood on one more street corner where I knew that he had stood, I could find the answer. Any answer. An answer to how he felt when he was there. An answer to how he felt when he died. Something.

What I learned is that you should always go on your journey. We each have something that we have either always wanted to do. A place that we went to when we were young that we have wanted to go back to. Or perhaps we want to see where our parents were from, or where they met. We could want to see where someone near and dear to us lived, or died. It can be as far reaching as traveling Southeast Asia as I did, or as simple as wandering an old neighborhood where you grew up at night.

Go on the journey.

But go, not as I did as Westerner looking for the answer, though I suspect that you will leave that way. Go as the Burmese and African friends that I met along the way would go. Go knowing that the answers are elusive and not only are they elusive, the questions travel with you.

When you learn to live with the questions all day and all night, you realize that the answers don’t matter nearly as much as you once thought. When I was in Burma, I would get emails from my friends from the States, ‘did you find out what happened to your father?’ But no one there ever asked me that. They knew that it wasn’t the answers that mattered so much, but the journey itself. And living with the questions.

I wish I could go back to the classroom of my youth and when the teacher asked a question, instead of shooting my arm up and seeking to be the one with the answer, I would be the boy who sat there and just thought about the question.

 

photo by: paul bica

Blood. Sweat. Love. Mud.

Time to say good-bye? Really? Already? No. I just got here. We just met, you and me. You, a White H’Moung guide named Kai Thao, and me, from Boston, far away.

“Kai in Lao means Chicken. I am Chicken Man.” Laughter.

That’s how we met, two weeks ago, here at this small airport, in Northern Laos, the kind of airport, the kind of town, where it’s quiet enough you hear every airplane that comes through, there’s one around two, then the one at three and one more around five.

If you are riding your bike around town, and you hear a plane, it’s going to be two or three or five, not two or four or six, because at one, four, six, there aren’t any planes. There is only the sound of the town, the birds, the monks and if it’s near five, they’ll be setting up the Night Market on the main street.

Then when you leave, like I have to do today, they don’t ask your flight, or where you are going, they just figure if you are here in the morning, you are going to Siem Reap because that’s the only flight between nine and eleven thirty and they are right, I am going to Siem Reap.

But first I have to say good-bye to Kai.

We met here when I flew in, I was on the two o’clock plane. He was outside with a sign with my name on it, a small White H’moung man, all seventy-five pounds of him.

Kai and I and a driver named Kip, which means “Money” in English and then Kam Soon, another driver, and E and S, my two German friends and Eve whom I met here, and had dinner with, twice, in a old French restaurant, by the river, near the bamboo bridge, those are the people I loved and shared this part of the journey with.

When I think of Laos, I think of them. But in the beginning it was just me and Kai and Kip.

“You mean I have a driver named Money and a guide named Chicken?”

“Oh yes, Mr. James.”  Smile.

We drove and walked, hiked and swam in waterfalls, we took a small boat down a river my father took a small boat down fifty years ago. We slept on the floor, we walked the hills, we carried our bottles of water.

We bought a cat.

Well, E, S and I bought a cat, Kai translated.

The wild cat had been caught in a trap, but before they could sell it to someone else for dinner, we bought it and put it in a box and carried back into the jungle. E and S are in Vietnam now, I keep looking for them, but they are gone now, down the road.

As E said, “when people ask me if I have a pet, I will say yes, I have a cat I keep in Laos.”

The cat cost E, S and I $1.15 each, $3.45 total. 30,000 kip. Money.

Kai was happy with us, “the cat did not want to die today, he wanted to live, to be happy, you have done a good thing, the spirits are happy.”

Kai believes not in gods and churches, of sinners and saints, but in the hills and the rivers, the spirits of the trees, of the waterfalls.

“Kai, how old are you?”

“I don’t know Mr. James, no calendar in my village but I came down from the mountain when I think I was 12 or 13 to go to school and I think that has been fifteen years so I think I am 27 but I am not sure.”

“What day is your birthday?”

“I don’t know but I am very little so I think I was born in the Spring because in the winter my mother would not have much food so I pick April 10th as my birthday.”

Kai and I were enjoying each other’s company and getting closer and then, well, he picked the leeches off of me in the jungle.

“Don’t press down, you have to let it bleed out and then the wound will close.”

So I stood, on the top of a mountain in Laos, sweat pouring out me, mud halfway up my legs, red brown thick mud, the mud the mountains on my leg, the blood the river, running through the valleys in the mud, you can wipe it off, but it’s just coming back when you start climbing again, the mud, and the blood, both.

In Boston, when you bleed, you press on it to stop the flow so I pressed and it kept bleeding so I then I let it bleed and just as he said it would, it stopped.

You don’t bleed when the leech is on you, when their teeth take hold, no, the blood, you see, comes when the leech has had enough of you and lets go.  I smiled softly as I realized that, standing there, high on the hill, yes you have it right Mr James, the bleeding comes when the creature who has been taking from you, leaves. If they stay there is no blood even though they taking life from you, feverishly, through the open wound in you.

When the leech gets on you, before they start drinking, they are panicked, frantic, so near the blood and so far, you have to fight to get it off you or you don’t and let them drink.

They leave and you, even though you were the one providing the life to the pairing, you’re the one that keeps bleeding while they go on, satiated with the blood and life they have taken from you.

As I was thinking about all this and I was thinking of those who had taken from me and then left, satiated, I lifted my hiking boot up and squeezed the blood out.

“So much blood Mr James, so much blood.”

I know Kai, so much blood, so much blood, that’s why I am here Kai, I’d like to explain it to you, but it’s a long story, one I don’t quite understand myself, but there are leeches and blood and wounds that don’t heal, it’s a story of that Kai and so much more, so much more.

It took us another day to hike back to the river and then two days more to get back down the river and then Kai and I sat in an Internet café in Luang Prabang and I helped him get his first email address. He can’t type and doesn’t really understand the computer, but he now has an email address. I am not sure how much good it will do him, but he was very happy with it and that was the point.

So, are you headed this way?

Do you want to see the river? The Buddhas in the caves? Do you want to see the sunrise from the village? Swim in the waterfalls? Walk the hills? Climb the mountain?  Buy a cat, let it go?

If that sounds good and you’d like to see the small town where my father went, drink rice beer, cook dinner on the flames in the hut and wonder about the piles of American bombs you still see.

If you want to hear the quiet and the peace of the mountains, listen to a single shot from a hunter in the distance, hear it echo and echo, if you want to ask people what day they picked for their birthday, and think about what day you would pick if you were given the choice.

If you want to see the hill they were born on, well, then here’s what you do.

Email Kai.

He’s  twenty seven year old or so, a White H’Moung mountain guide, he was ten years old before he rode in a car, he’s never been on a plane, but if you’re headed north, if you’re going where there is no electricity and the stars shine, where you hike straight up and straight down, the steepest hills you have ever seen, where you learn about leeches, and sleep in the chef’s house, well then, you should email him.

“I am sad Mr James, last day, last day.”

Yes Kai, last day.

“We don’t say good-bye Kai, we say see you soon, you see, we’ll see each other soon.”

“Okay Mr James see you soon.”

He walks away, I can’t watch him go so I look down at my stained hiking boots and my legs, I think of the leeches and I see the rivers of blood running through the mountains of mud.

I think of the sweat, the heat, the humidity, the water we carried, of the 10th of April, of a cat in the jungle, of new German friends, of a French woman smiling in the moonlight.

I think of those that take from you, and of those that give to you. And, as my flight is called, I think, only, of those to whom you wish to give.

 

I’m traveling through Southeast Asia in my father’s footsteps, join me.

Taken.

A bone fractured, snapped, cracked will heal and the place where it heals, will be forever stronger than the bone around it. Breaking and healing, it seems, they want to make sure you know, makes a bone, you, stronger than if it, you, had never been broken at all.

The breaking part? I and life took care of that, the longer you live, the harder you love, the more you do and try, the more you break, if you dig deeper, love harder, go farther, swing harder, you don’t bend, you break, so the breaking bits, done.

But even though we just met, you stepped up and into me and helped with the healing, even if you didn’t know that’s what you were doing at the time.

You see, I am far from home, alone, and walking the shores of the Mekong, drinking coffee in the hotel restaurant, watching, listening, alone, the broken bits of me are coming up, surfacing, rising up from within and when we meet, I see the life in you. The laughter, the smile, and I take that from you and place it over a broken part of me. And I heal, and that part of me, covered by a part of you, is stronger than the parts of me that have not been broken.

I feel like one of the strays you see in the streets here, wandering as if rabid, hunting, looking then running to the carcass by the side of the road, I take what I need, famished, and leave the rest for you or for the next person on a journey you run into  – and each of you has something different I need for the next step on my journey so from each of you, I take something new.

Perhaps I should ask but imagine that, we’ve just met and what would I say?

Oh E, I need your wit and English sense of humor with me, you don’t mind do you darling? Oh S, can I have some of yours as well? It will help me get through the bus rides and the trains and the moments in the airport terminals alone.

No, you would walk away, shun me and rightfully so, so I just take. It’s what one has to do to keep going, has to do, being alone.

Not alone in a simple, ring me up, and oh, I am home alone kind of way. No, alone, as in the ones I love sleep when I am awake, I sleep while they go on about their days, our paths only coinciding for a few hours, my morning, their night, my night, their morning. It would take me days of travel to see my son, hug my daughter, days.

So alone, my thoughts, the past, history, my life, my mistakes, my triumphs, they are my constant companions and in the silence, they scream to me and break me.

After a few weeks on the journey, I am getting more used to them, they are slowly but surely loosing their power over me, which makes them scream louder, so I walk farther and the cycle will continue until they can scream no more or I hear no more, that’s how this journey ends.

But for now, when I am alone with them, too alone, too close to them, they rise up in the quiet, the embers reignite, hot, hotter still when so close, my father, my mother, my grandparents, lovers, partners, friends, especially those like Spence or Wass that are gone already.

Is that possible? Spencer dead twenty-five years? We were just hitting golf balls behind Brooks House, we were just in Boston, we were just, no, not just I suppose, twenty, thirty years ago now, we were. Not just.

See what I mean? S and E? Those are fractures within me, and I am healing them, or well, you are healing them. Hopping in a tuk tuk with you, laughing past the market, making jokes about the monks, you help me, I pull the connection in, I take the laughter and the life from you, place it over an old wound, or a new one, and then, I can go on.

Lunch over the river, trading pictures of our kids, floating in the pool, small steps on the journey, but steps I have taken with you, so now you, too, you share the journey.

I am the traveler, the prophet of the road, guru of buses and planes, I don’t have a ticket home, only to the next town, country, state, you were just on a girls weekend, or so you thought, and I pull you onto my journey and you’ll go back to Hong Kong and your baby and your school. But a small piece of you, it goes with me. It’s here with me now, comfortably enjoying the day in Laos.

By the end of the journey, there will be a large, wide, dusty road, I am walking ahead and behind me, a cloud of dust rises, spreads wide, and up, you are all there with me, dozens and dozens, maybe hundreds by then, walking, helping, following, supporting, loving me, as I walk ahead.

Those pieces I take to heal, I guard jealously, I graft them onto myself, they are not to be shared, they are mine, mine alone and the more I have the better I am the stronger I am, the farther I can go, the more I can find out along the way.

Your pieces, I pile them onto the ones I brought from home, from old friends and new, past partners and future lovers, from people you don’t know, but who have also healed me, and helped me on my way.

I do this because as much as I would love one more float in the pool, one more laugh at breakfast, as much as I cherish that, this is my journey to take alone, so I pack the bags, check out, head to the airport, leave.

But I have you now with me. I have those pieces of you I needed. And I thank you.

If I didn’t have them, or if you insisted in having them back, I don’t know how much farther I could go, I’d be worn out, stopped, blocked, too alone, the memories would rise too high above me, I’d try and climb up, there’d be nothing to hold, I’d fall deeper and deeper into the hole, my father’s voice would become louder and louder.

I’d remember too clearly how she felt, what my mother said, the cord of my son I cut, it would be too clear too real, until the light within me would go out, over-processing, overloaded, the past would win, circuit broken, the story ends with the traveling prophet returning home, broken, alone.

So I take, and take and take, I need it, you that part of you I now have, I need to survive don’t you see? I need those drops of water, the bit of food, the sustaining part of you.

You are with me, right left right, left right which way again?

We will each get to where we are going, and you will be with me. I took a bit of humor, some of the charm, the sense of life, it filled me back up, sent me down the road, stronger, the part you fixed better than the parts you didn’t touch.

So thank you.

Thank you for letting me reach inside and take of you what I need.

I offer myself in return.

What Does My Fortune Say, Old Man, What Does My Fortune Say.

I see the men and the women come in, old man, I see them sit by you. I watch as they lift the small books in your bowl and lay their money down too, does this make them wise old man, or does this make them fools?

They sit quietly cross-legged or with their feet to the side, they place the book on their head so they can drop the piece of wood in to choose, and then they hand the book to you.

What does my fortune say old man, what does my fortune say.

Will this journey work out for me? Will I find my father in the halls of the hotels he wandered and stayed? At the bar of the Foreign Correspondents Club here in Phnom Penh where he drank and smoked and laughed and strayed? It’s hot and steamy here, and I just want to know, have no fear, I am willing to pay my way,

What does my fortune say.

Will I find everything else I am looking for? On these streets, in these treks, as I walk and wake and sleep and meet and wander and ponder? Will I still be floating at the end of the path or will I find solid ground one day?

What does my fortune say.

Will I see the house my father loved? Will I connect with those back home? Will the book become clearer to me? Is there peace out there for me? Will love come back my way?

Old man, you see, I wonder, I need to know, what does my fortune say.

The King died, as you well know, that’s what your paper says, the Buddhas watch, the fans blow, the incense burns and Kings, even Kings die, you know. The book has many pages but only one ending doesn’t it old man, is that what you tell people when they pay?  Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, try as you try, do what you must, but in the end old man, I know the last line of that book, I know what the fortune, everyone’s fortune says,

and all that matters, all we can control, is what we see and feel and whom we love along the way

Is that what my fortune says?

I am traveling Southeast Asia in my father’s footsteps, follow along at floatingthejourney.com

 

Please Forgive Me.

Please forgive me

If I act a little strange

Music is a large part of a journey alone, any journey, the chance to put on your headphones and watch the time go by as those around you chatter in a language you don’t yet understand, in this case, traveling through the Cambodian countryside on a bus — the only Westerner paying $13 to go from Ho Chi Minh City to Phnom Penh at 7:00 am.

For I know not what I do

It feels like lighting running through my veins

The music is playing as the miles go by, across the border and into Cambodia. The music plays even right now when we are paying $3 each to the police to get around some traffic. The songs echo as we are stuck hours, three then four, waiting for our spot on the ferry.

Every time I look at you

Every time I look at you

Here, in the traffic, at the back of the bus, this David Gray song – the story of love, of being perfectly enchanted with a woman, lyrics and melody of the moment when you gaze at her, when your eyes lock and the world around you doesn’t just stop, that is far too simple language for what happens you see. For what the world does, is it disappears, and fades from view first at the edges like an old photograph and then it is gone, complete. The guitar and the piano and the singing speaks of then, of love incarnate, love perfect, when there is the two of you, and only you, of when everything else is quiet, gone, hushed, black. I remember where we were.

Help me out here

My words are falling short

I have written love letters, love poems, texts, emails, sent packages, flowers more; I have pursued and been pursued all in quest of that moment I have known once. Now I realize that it is something that can’t be created, flowered, or manufactured. It is not something you can wish for, hope for, get back when it goes, you can’t take two people, any two people, no matter how perfect they are on paper for each other, and say here you are – make that happen. You can’t. You’d have more luck turning iron into gold, of riding a unicorn, of uncovering chests of gold of faraway beaches, of walking on the moon.

There’s so much I want to say

Want to tell you just how good it feels

It is the moment of perfect equality between man and woman. Neither party is the hunter or the hunted, no one is chasing, no one is running away, there are no games to play. It’s the absolute triumph of yes, the definition of complete, the reason you go on dates, read books, write those letters, gaze at stars, go to astrologists, sign up online, go the gym, eat better, wonder what to wear, it’s the singular moment of we, the chance coincidence that defines you and her.

When you look at me that way

When you look at me that way

It’s what happens when suddenly there are no barriers to cross, no stories to be told, when there is absolutely nothing left, it is there, pure. It’s how people can meet and get married a week or month later, it’s not something everyone gets the chance to feel, but everyone who has, will always remember and those who haven’t, don’t understand it, or why or how. If you find it, you should hold on tight to it, fight for it, die for it because if you let it go, you may walk distant shores, go on a thousand dates, sleep with more women than you can imagine and never, ever even glimpse it again.

Throw a stone and watch the ripples flow

Moving out across the bay

Like a stone I fall into your eyes

Deep into that mystery

Deep into some mystery

Where does it come from? Where does the eye lock arise form within not just one but two of you? And, as importantly, more importantly perhaps, where does it go when it leaves and can you find it again, will it return, will it ever be there again, or should you give up, settle, move on, forget it, become a monk, a nun, celibate, forget it, cross it out of your mind.

I got half a mind to scream out loud

I got half a mind to die

So I wont ever have to lose you good

Won’t ever have to say good bye

I won’t ever have to lie

Won’t ever have to say good bye

I am not scared of it but I see how one could be. I see. I see. I see how the fire could be too hot, the fluster too strong, the frustration, attraction, I understand, little bit of love, easy, no problem, take it, leave it, use it, lose it, fill my nights with something else, that’s all part of life, of the game.

Please forgive me

If I act a little strange

But when the eyes lock. It gets scary, weird, uncomfortable, it’s when the independence in you wants to run, say no, shut the door, open it, peek inside, flip on the light and slam it tight, don’t get hurt — easier to leave, run away, don’t stay, make an excuse, the timing is wrong, I can’t do this now, maybe we aren’t that compatible after all, it’s probably, could be, just lust, the moon, something I ate, weakness, fatigue, sorry I am just bouncing back, bouncing away I need to put my career first right now, take care of my dog, watch out for sunsets, stay away from walks by the sea, it doesn’t seem right, it’s weird, strange, uncomfortable, I want my calm normal usual love back, the type I can take or leave, the love that feels fine when it’s there and is okay when it’s not, the water over here when you are, it’s too deep, too blue, too clear, too perfect, I can see too far, it feels like I am floating above the reefs below and what if I crash down into them cut, bleeding, dying, what you want me to do, it’s floating, not swimming, I don’t know how to float, where do my hands go, should I breathe, I need to get back to shore, stop holding on, let me go, I can’t hear you, I am not going to answer you, no, don’t, you don’t understand, please understand, I need to get back to solid ground, I can’t control this, what if I leave, what if you leave, what if I had never felt your feet wrap around me as you pull me into you, then I wouldn’t think about it, I can forget, forgive, convince myself I have never known that feeling and it’s better not to know, it’s better not to look, lock, wait see me, I am throwing away the key, there it goes now, I’m sorry, it’s just that it’s late, early, Tuesday, sunny rainy cloudy chance of fog, feels like snow, it’s something anything sorry but, I need to run, look at the time, the day flew by, I have got to go, going, gone.

For I know not what I do

It feels like lightning running through my veins

Every time I look at you

Every time I look at you

I saw David Gray once. She was there.

Dear Max: A Letter To Senator Max Cleland From Hill 471 Khe Sanh

Dear Max:

Well, here I am, Hill 471 in Khe Sanh. I came here because I love and admire you and since I was touring Vietnam I figured what the hell, I’ll head up to Khe Sanh and find Hill 471 and stand where you last stood all those years ago.

These days I have to confess that it’s pretty easy to get to Khe Sanh. I’m told back then the roads were mud and a mess, now you speed right on up them. I don’t know if you noticed all those years ago, during the war, but it’s beautiful country Max.

You can lost watching the mountains and the streams, passing through the villages with the houses built on stilts but then you get jarred back to why you are here, where you are when you see the signs for Camp Carroll or you go by a beautiful small mountain peak and your guide tells you:

“That’s Rockpile, Marines, Rockpile.”

Like all good pilgrimages, as you head towards Khe Sanh from the coast, you climb higher and ever higher into the hills, headed towards Laos, past the memorial to the Ho Chi Minh trail, past the small towns and villages, the highway markers counting down to the old base, twenty klicks, then ten, then five.

And then I am here.

First we head up to the main base, to see the small museum there and also, well, my guide has been going here for twenty years and I’ve been searching for about six months, but neither of us are 100% sure where Hill 471 is so we need to double check on the maps that the museum has.

My guide is dutifully calling all her other guide friends and we are pretty sure we know, but hell, I don’t want to come all this way and not be sure, it’d be just like me to come all this way and be one hill off.

Ironically what greets me when I walk onto the base? A chopper, looking like it could fly today.

In the museum, we check the map and there’s Hill 471, right about where we thought it was. I wander the museum a bit and take a walk down the runway, they’ve planted corn on parts of it of all things. I’m sure back then it was never quiet enough to hear the wind rush up the valleys, or to feel it as it goes over the top of the hills.

I ask my guide if many Americans come here, the answer is yes. How are they when they are here? Sad, many still affected by the war.

As we get back in the car and head to Hill 471, I think of when we first met, almost ten years ago, and all those times together on JK’s campaign and since. I especially remember, for some reason, a dinner we had at Legal Sea Foods a couple of years ago, I sat next to you and I know you love your lobster!

I remember cutting the pieces for you, smaller and smaller so you could eat them. When we eat, I know now to take your plate when the food arrives, and start cutting it up, without asking you, without you asking me.

Sometime between then and when I planned this trip, I decided I wanted to come here. For you. Just so you know I love you and I think the world of you; you are one of my heroes and always will be.

We cut back through town and up a small road, you’d be happy to know some kids were playing soccer and their laughter filled the air as we got near the hill.

Here it is Max, this is Hill 471 today, looks different I imagine. It was very, very green and very, very quiet. I climbed through the underbrush and right in the middle, you can’t quite see in the pictures, but hell it’s been a few years you know.

But when you climb up from the road, you can tell where the top of the hill was flattened for a landing pad. So I figure this is about where the chopper landed, and about where you got out.

I tried to close my eyes and imagine the sounds back then, of choppers flying and guns and of soldiers and of war, but I really couldn’t. All I heard were the kids down the hill, laughing and yelling, the birds in the trees and the wind.

I felt wonderfully calm and at peace, that’s the love in you Max, so much love and faith in you, coming to me over here – it made me smile.

I thought I might be sad here thinking of you and what you lost on this hill, but I wasn’t. It was more of a joyous moment, for you for surviving, for the men and medics who helped you survive and for what you have given me and so many others, life lessons in the power of love and forgiveness and perseverance like no other man could.

I wish you had been here so I could have given you and gotten one of your great one-arm hugs.

I made it back through the thicket to the road and took another picture for you. About the middle of the trees is where the hill is flat for the landing pad.

As I headed to the car, my guide asked:

“Your friend, maybe he come back here one day?”

“Maybe it’d be a long way for him to travel. But maybe.”

“So you like son, you come here for him, pay respects?”

God damm right I did.

Time for some more lobster, I’ll come see you soon.

James

Two pictures of Max, in Vietnam in 1968, perhaps in Khe Sanh, and giving a speech a few years ago.

“You Buy From Me.”

“You buy from me, you buy from me.”

The women first approached us just as we started our hike down from the town of Sapa. Dressed with their distinctive red headdress, the Dzao women followed us as we walked down and through the jungle paths, making our way to the valley floor.

“Where you from?”

“How old you are? I am twenty nine. My name is Phom.”

“You buy from me.”

They walk behind you and stay out of your way, but as you walk up and down, in your fancy footwear, they walk behind you, chatting away, in their plastic flip flops on the mountain paths. After an hour or two, the deal is set, you have their company and their questions and when you get to their village,

“You buy from me.”

As they chatter alongside, I ask Dong our guide what they are talking about, he listens a bit and responds that they are debating which country’s tourists have more money and which ones don’t. On average, each day they walk between ten and fifteen miles, making a sale or two of the handicrafts they make. As they walk they twist hemp into string for their looms.

If you ask them to go ahead so you can take a picture, they get nervous that you won’t follow, so you take your position at the lead again.

“How much farther to your village?”

“Two kilometers.”

So you walk through the rice paddies, past the huts and the water buffalo. Past the small houses, one belonging to a stone carver. In the mountains above, rain clouds are forming. Here at the base of the valley, it is completely quiet as you watch your step on the muddy paths, going up and down the hills. You have become fond of their chatter and their laughter behind.

Finally, you stop just before their village, for a rest, and Dong suggests we do our shopping now so we don’t get surrounded by other women in town. The packs come off their backs and out come the goods, hand sewn on the days the weather keeps away the visitors.

You pick a scarf and a bag, one thing from each.

“How much?”

“300,000 dong.” “The same.”

You start to think about bargaining and what to offer. Custom would say start at 150,000 and work back up, 300,000 is a lot, both items are nice, rustic, clearly hand made, all of which Dong confirms.

They are asking $15 for each piece. You’ve bargained your whole life in villages and towns especially when you were traveling with your father, your kids have already learned the craft. But today, after five hours on the trail, you wonder why you would.

“That’s fine.”

And you pay each woman. They, in turn, each tie a small bracelet on your wrist.

“For your journey” and they hold your hand in a half shake. “For your journey.” And off they go, to find another visitor, another person to walk with, another foreigner from a far away land they can walk up to and remind:

“You buy from me.”

 

I am traveling Southeast Asia in the footsteps of my father, follow along with me. 

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