I grew up Catholic, baptized shortly after birth, educated in Catholic schools until I was eighteen, first by nuns, then by Jesuits. Our neighborhood revolved around the parish church and school. In St. Louis, people would judge your social class by your parish. “She’s from Our Lady of Lourdes.” Oh, that speaks volumes.
Now I live in Thailand, and here in Chiang Mai, Buddhist temples are even more omnipresent and important to the community than were Catholic churches when I was a boy. All directions are given regarding the nearest temple. Fundraising parties that last five full days abound. There’s literally a temple every half mile in all directions. The first morning sounds I hear through our perpetually open windows are the gentle gongs of monks walking down lanes, seeking alms.
There are school classrooms attached to many temples, but most education is done in public schools. Uniforms are compulsory here, up through University level. Thais love uniforms. Even employees of companies wear uniforms. Nurses wear nurse uniforms like we used to have in America before about 1960. Boy and girl scout uniforms abound.
Conformity is not frowned upon in Southeast Asia. There’s an Asian expression, “the nail that sticks up gets hammered down.” I chafed under the regulations that demanded I wear a uniform for the first eight years of schooling, but here I take comfort seeing students in uniforms.. It reminds me of home. I remember having the same feeling when I went to Ireland in 1971. I saw Dublin school girls waiting for a bus who were wearing the same color skirt and blouse the girls wore back at our Lady of Lourdes, in St. Louis.
I’m one hundred percent male and I live in the North of Florida. I own guns. I never cared much for school, and everything I learned to earn a living I did on my own. If a guy knows how to fix cars he’ll never want for work or money. That’s me. I’m not rich, but I have all the money I need to get on with the business of enjoying life.
My friends think like I do. We hate the democrats, especially Obama and Hillary. We like to chant “lock her up!” all together, and if anyone tries to argue with us we say “What about Hillary’s emails?” and that shuts them up.
I was married a couple of times, but I guess marriage is just not my thing. There’s always some woman who will give a guy like me sex, so I’m not worried about being horny or desperate. Women hold nothing over me. I can take ’em or leave ’em. That’s what I like about women. They’re not in charge.
I might not be tall, or strong, rich or smart, but I don’t take orders from nobody. Florida is my kind of place. You could move a guy like me up north to someplace like Maine, and I’d be nobody at all. Down here I’m king.
People here in Southeast Asia are not in denial about that. We used to be less conflicted about it too, back in the States.
If there is a feminist movement here in Thailand, it’s largely invisible. It’s a Buddhist Patriarchy. Men who can afford to have multiple wives and girlfriends. Nobody’s shocked.
We will pray for you, if that’s any consolation. You ask “is there any way to avoid death?” In the long run, I’m afraid not. We are all on that journey, like cattle in a chute. We hear the frantic mooing of those who are ahead of us on the one-way path to the slaughterhouse. There, a man who holds a large hammer stands poised to strike.
What, you have other plans? Sorry, they amount to no more than wishful thinking. This world is a small part of a much greater cosmos. Will you persist? I can’t promise anything. To tell the truth, I don’t know what awaits us. I only know we’re in the chute. You can moo and kick the walls all the like, but you will move forward. See, you just took another step!
If you had told me a week ago that I would be flown to Bangkok for 3 days to play an American cotton farmer in a Chinese diaper commercial I wouldn’t have believed it. But indeed this is what has happened. The location for the three-day shoot is a rich man’s estate with hundreds of acres of lagoons and gardens with carefully landscaped Lombardi pines. It looks like Versailles transplanted to Thailand. I am hardly the most important person in this project, in fact I am almost inconsequential, but they saw something in me I guess they could not find among the expatriates living in Bangkok.
Or maybe I just had a lucky break and a good Agent. The woman who plays the mother of the cute baby who needs my diapers is an incredibly beautiful young woman. She is so beautiful in that Thai way that a billboard sized picture of her could stop traffic.
The man who owns this estate is probably long dead. There is a bust of him on the landing and a huge oil portrait of him on the second floor, with photos of him and the royal family, but no one in the crew seems to know who he is, or care. We’re just using his house as a location for a commercial shoot.
Sic Transit Gloria Mundi. You can be rich enough to own Versailles but your house will be used as a location for a diaper commercial and no one will know who you are.
“Waking up to who you are involves letting go of who you imagine yourself to be.” – Alan Watts
By the time we leave adolescence, most of us have a pretty set idea of who we are. We know our talents, our weaknesses, our proclivities. Other people let us know where we shine and where we don’t.
The jobs we’re offered, the feedback we get at work, the attention we get from possible romantic partners, the status we achieve in our community…all these things give us a pretty set and firm idea of who we are. At least we think they do.
Who we really are and the possibilities we offer are often not yet expressed. Clark Gable was an impoverished lumberjack as a young man. He had all of his teeth removed by the age of twenty and was wearing an ill-fitting and often painful set of false teeth. He had big ears. If we could zip back in a time machine and ask him to describe himself at that age, I imagine the details he would offer would vary substantially from what he would say a decade later.
Elvis at sixteen and Elvis at eighteen would offer the same extremes. These kinds of changes and rapid advances in self-concept and esteem don’t only happen to the young. There are probably more examples of delayed recognition for persistent effort than there are meteoric rises to the top. People who rate themselves as successful often say that continued and constant effort was the key to their success.