Written by Melanie Gin and Thy-Diep Ta, illustrations by Sheila Grießhaber
“Brother, why do you look so sad?”, a voice called out to the man in brown robes.
The young monk stopped in his tracks. He had been rushing down the worn path towards the train station, a tan satchel slung over his left shoulder. At the sound of the voice, he paused and inhaled slowly, as if waking from a dream.
His lips turned up, the stern crunch of his eyebrows disappeared, and with a smile, the monk met the eyes of a young woman across the path. “Hello, my friend. I don’t think I’ve met you before. What is your name?”
“I go by Bell. My parents named me Marisa, because I was born near the ocean, but I prefer Bell.”
She turned towards the monk, stepping away from her circle of friends. “I thought you monks were happy people. That’s what they say. They say you believe that there’s a shining Buddha inside of you. But you — you don’t look happy.”
The monk was struck by her directness and took a step closer to see her more clearly.
The young woman wore green cowboy boots embroidered with pink roses, a black leather jacket, and auburn curls twisted into a messy bun. She was holding a cigarette in her left hand, and every so often, she exhaled a cloud of smoke that quickly dispersed in the clear air. In looks and spirit, she reminded the monk of Princess Amidala from Star Wars.
Bell looked at the monk, confused by his silence. “Brother, what’s wrong? You must not see women very often… did I scare you?”
The monk did not respond at first. In the chaos of the train station, the two studied each other. They were both in transition: he had aspired to become a monk for years and had just ordained, she had wrapped up university last summer and was wondering what came next. In another place and time, they may have been friends. Finally, the young monk moved to speak.
“What a skillful observation, my friend. I guess I am feeling sad. In this moment, I was grieving my teacher, who died two nights ago. I was remembering how we came to this very station many times together. Each time, he would have a kind word for the station agent and a smile for the child in the carriage. He was full of generosity and love, and I miss him very much.”
The monk smiled at his memories. “I was lost in my sorrow when I passed you, and you helped me come back to the beauty of this day.”
Bell nodded. “Are you still feeling sad?”
“Yes, I feel deep sadness in my heart. I miss my teacher, for his smile, his very presence was my refuge. It feels like a part of me has been torn from my body. But you, my friend, have given me a beautiful gift. You have brought my attention back to the present moment, to my true home in the here and now.
“I know that my teacher is with me in peace and joy, and in every step that I take. He is the one who taught me how to walk peacefully, after all. He taught me that the earth is sacred, and each step upon the earth can be an act of reverence. Walking this way, I am not separate from him or from this earth.
“Thank you for the reminder of this present moment, dear Bell of clear sound.”
She smiled and her sound was the silence of the wind, rustling like the trees from his home.
“May I express my deepest gratitude to you?”, the monk asked. He bowed with palms touching, then stood and resumed his path. “Thank you, my friend.” He walked slowly, with conscious steps, towards the open doors of the station and the embrace of his brothers.
We want to thank Franziska Deutsch, Jessica Montesano and Nathan Gotlib for the entire editing process and invaluable feedback.