I saw him three weeks ago, on the night I left the monastery. He was doing his opening ceremony, and I was doing my closing ceremony. I noticed him because he got in the monk’s face when the monk told him the opening ceremony was going to be late. He elbowed his way further into the small circle of people and gestured at the monk with barely veiled aggression. His chin jutted out as he demanded to know why the ceremony was going to be late. He was pissed that he was going to have to wait. “He must be American,” I thought.
When I returned to do this last ten days, he was still there. I was surprised. He had been there for almost three weeks now. It almost broke my heart. I didn’t think a character like that could last three days. I was so proud of him for still being there. “What drove him here?” I wondered. “Did he ruin a string of relationships? Did he get fired from a job? Did he start too many fights?”
He looked like a man who drank beers on the couch, and watched football with the boys on a Sunday morning. He absolutely did not look like he belonged in a monastery. He had a big barrel chest, and probably lifted weights at home. I imagined him working in construction, and eating three ham sandwiches for lunch. The fact that he stuck it out for over three weeks in a monastery made my heart swell with something like love. I beamed whenever I saw him. He may have been a huge jerk in the real world, or perhaps he was a nice guy. But you have to give credit to someone who looks utterly foreign in their environment, and is trying their best anyway.
My heart broke for him further one morning after breakfast when I saw him washing dishes in his baseball cap. It was a cream-colored cap, like his clothes, but it was so out of place in that environment that I wanted to cry for him. I can’t explain it. No one in that entire place wore a baseball hat. If you ever saw a hat, it was on the head of a nun, and it was knitted and white.
This is my misperception, but what I saw was a poor guy that didn’t have a clue, and was walking around clutching onto anything that was familiar in a place where things can be so unfamiliar. But he probably just didn’t care. He was probably protecting his bald head from a sunburn. But something about the sight of him in his baseball cap flooded my heart. I felt so much compassion for this guy, so far from what I imagined was his natural habitat. I’m sure I had it all wrong. But I imagined that he was a brave soul, far from home and working hard. And if he had nothing else in this foreign place, he had his baseball cap.