Penpa Tanging with Neha
--by singlestep, posted Sep 12, 2007
Neha is the recently-turned-eight year old across the street. Every encounter with her is an Edifying Experience. A few mornings ago she skipped over with her grandmother and our share of homemade Divali sweets.
I was en route with basket in hand to our back yard to gather the morning flowers- “Pavithrakka can I also come? I am loving flow-ers very much,” says Neha in her fun, formal, not always grammatically correct but unfailing confident English. Of course I say and we head towards the Coral Jasmine tree out back- a tall slender trunked tree that rains white fragrant blossoms with bright orange stalks on the grass during the nights all year round- but in the monsoon season when it rains it pours and the grass and the ground beneath the tree is literally carpeted in white and orange – blossoms that can be picked up by the careful-not-to-crush fistful.
There’s a kind of extra ordinary magic in those morning moments spent quietly gathering these flowers. A magic born of a mixture of gratitude, wonder, and unreasonable beauty in the still silence of early morning- I wish I could say that such a steady start to the morning renders one invincible to all the daily demons of impatience, irritation, of I-ness and My-ness and O-My-Soul-Is-A-Squashed-Tomato-ness (and yes that was the Unfortunate title of an Unfortunate poem penned during my (short lived) career as an Aspiring Existentialist. Don’t Ask :-)) But apparently you can’t buy that kind of invincibility with a basketful of flowers- it takes more diligence and vigilance in the moment than that … but what the basketful of flowers does provide is- a sort of sacred space to “set the tone of the day”.
There’s a Tibetan phrase for this that I learnt recently – penpa tang. And it can in subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle ways make a difference to how I live my day- or at least to my awareness of how I live my day. Or maybe I’m just trying to find a halfway respectable excuse for being born to-
"(...) catch dragons in their dens
And pick flowers
To tell tales and laugh away the morning
To drift and dream like a lazy stream
And walk barefoot across sunshine days"
…either way there I am with Neha under the Coral Jasmine tree, I reach over and shake the trunk gently and she tilts her head up and watches the white sudden swirl of blossoms falling like stars, like snowflakes with an expression of perfectly mingled awe and delight (my day is Made in that moment :-)). And then we both bend to the sweetly-scented task at hand. I find myself wondering with a faint twinge of apprehension and amusement- what Neha is going to say- I don’t want the conversation to wander from this magical to the mundane just yet- and in some admittedly silly way I want to “protect” the sacredness of this space from small-talk.
“Do you like Mother Teresa?” Neha’s question asked between blossom-picking is matter-of-fact and sans preamble. “Yes” I answer- somewhat startled – and intrigued by her choice of conversation threads. “ I also am liking her very much. She is helping all the people who are suffering from This and That. Nobody else to help them otherwise. All the people in the world say she is very kind. And then she died.” The small heap of flowers in the basket is growing. Fresh, soft white flowers today. Dried brown brittle ones tomorrow. “What?” I have to know whether I heard the last part of this little impromptu speech correctly. “She died,” said Neha all of eight, “End of story.” “End of story,” I echoed. “
Pavitrakka look at this-,” She is pointing to a fern under the tree now strewn with small white flowers- “It looks like the flowers grew there no?” A thought I’ve so often had. “Yes they do. Neha- what do you want to be when you grow up?” And in my head I have already framed her answer- she will want to help people suffering from This and That like Mother Teresa. Neha looks over at me for a brief moment- then-
“ I think I will also be a Flower Collecter,” she says.
My children that have gone and my flowers burned by the sun.