Cold, rain-soaked, and bundled up in a tent, I watched the clouds shifting. In the span of a breath, the snow covered Himalayas appeared, shone in glory, and receded into fog. Our nineteen days in Assam were amazing, and not exactly what we anticipated. That’s India. You visit with one set of expectations and leave changed forever.
This was my third visit to India since the late 1990s. Change happens quickly in the physical world and slowly in the philosophical world. The population density has increased many times over and the environmental costs are obvious and distressing. I felt like I was visiting a dearly loved friend who was ill and not epected to recover.
Recovering from a winter battle with pneumonia, I curled up and read the journal of a biologist during his travels in Assam in 1840s. Reading what he experienced was a dramatic contrast to the world I found. He described giant trees over 18 feet in circumference. We saw the remaining 18 foot giant stumps. It was enough to break a treehugger’s heart.
If life had placed me there and my family needed warmth and fire to cook meals, would I destroy the forest each day by gathering wood? What choice would I have?
In 44 hours, we flew from Arkansas-Chicago-Newark-Delhi-Calcutta-Guwahati. Air pollution increased, then increased and increased more.
Back home where I can brush my teeth in water right out of the faucet, the electric grid is on for more than a few hours a day, women don’t carry concrete on the tops of their heads, the Dali Lama doesn’t drive by, and Namaste is not the accepted greeting–back home, I feel the enormity of the material luxuries we have in America and the absence of a deep cultural and spiritual connection. The paradigms are in opposite, each world admires different aspects of the other.
What did I find Universal between Assam and America? One to one people genuinely connect, regardless of language, age, religion, or nationality. Kids are curious, parents adore their children, and a selfie can break the ice in most circumstances.
Namaste — that piece of the sacred in me recognizes it in you.