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Photo by Kendall Marianacci, Nepal Semester.

The Space Between Us That Doesn’t Exist


An open heart, a kind smile and a namaste has the power to transcend age, language and cultural differences.

Today, as I was walking up to the Tiger’s Den – the place where Buddha is said to have offered his body to a starving mother tiger – I saw on old woman sitting on the steps. As I got closer, I realized that I recognized her from an interaction our group had with her on the first day we arrived here at Namo Buddha. She hobbled right into the center of our circle with gnarled bare feet and lumpy old pieces of cloth hanging off of her and gestured silently, counting how many of us there were. What followed was surprising to say the least. She began to get closer to the particularly lucky among us and jab us in our sides. She would then erupt in some combination of a laugh and a cackle and look up into our faces, displaying a mouth full of rotting teeth, searching each of our faces for our reaction. Although her method of approaching us was unorthodox, and surprising, looking back I think she was just looking for human connection.

As I passed her today I smiled and brought my hands together in a namaste. I considered stopping and sitting down with her but something in my mind held me back. Something in my mind made me think that would be strange and I didn’t want to risk being negatively received. When I reached the Tiger’s Den I sat down and looked out at the light rain that was beginning to fall. Next to me, tens of candles were burning and as I pulled out my journal all I could think of was this old woman. What does she think about? What has the rest of her life been like? As I began to think about her she appeared beside me and sat down. She stared at me persistently and I wasn’t sure how to react. I opened to a page in my journal of a Buddha I had drawn and saw her eyes widen in joy and recognition. I flipped to a blank page in my journal and handed her my pen and she drew. The joy she got from the drawing was contagious and I couldn’t help but share in her happiness.

The following is an excerpt from my journal:
I think often we forget about our elders because we don’t consider them to be of use to us. We discard them because they are old and slowed down and can’t keep up with the past paced world we live in. But we will all be old some day and and probably look scary and hunched over and I hope that when I’m less than five feet tall and have wrinkled, gnarled hands that people will show me kindness rather than look the other way as if I don’t matter. According to our teacher here at Namo Buddha, “all of us have the same quality. We don’t want suffering, we just want happiness. We are the same. We need to be kind to all beings.”

I want to create a world where we cherish the old and wise. Where we regard them with great respect for the long lives they’ve lived and the experiences and history they’ve seen that we can never completely understand. I want to live in a world where we don’t shy away from connecting with people because of what they look like but rather a world where we reach out with an open heart and acknowledge one another with a namaste.