I Can’t Explain It
Okay, this isn’t a picture of me looking into a small part of our vast universe. Nonetheless, it is precisely how I feel.
I am haunted by my world, and it drives me. I need to explain what I can’t grasp. To make my situation more problematic, my clock is ticking. I’ve danced with death twice, successfully, but I’ll be 80 in a couple of weeks. I don’t have a lifetime to explain my Gordian Knot.
A decade ago, I went to Myanmar to interview Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, often called the Lady, and failed. I have also failed in attempts to interview other people like Barack Obama or the Dalai Lama. However, despite being unable to contact the Lady, I went on a tour for a month in Myanmar’s tourist triangle. When I was at Inle Lake, my tour guide was Moh Moh. While she showed me around that area, she had to pick up my itinerary after I left Inle Lake. We stopped at her home to pick up the documents. Moh Moh’s daughter, Ti Ti, was home on winter break. Ti Ti, who was nine, asked me if I wanted to play Scrabble with her. We played and laughed for about an hour. As I left their home, I realized I had met my granddaughter.
From that moment on, Ti Ti and her family were a part of my family. Several years later, I returned to visit them. Ko Ko, Ti Ti’s father, was my tour guide on that trip. More importantly, Ti Ti, her parents, and I also discussed getting Ti Ti ready for college. In Myanmar, students graduate from high school at the end of the tenth grade. Ti Ti enrolled in a private college preparatory high school and had tutors for several hours after classes for two years.
I returned on my third trip to Myanmar. We attended a special recognition assembly at her high school, where Ti Ti received an award as the best math student in Shan State.
Then off we went on our family tour. I told Moh Moh and Ko Ko that I wanted to visit Than, an artist friend, and Moh Moh’s mother in Yangon. I also wanted to return to revisit Bagan and go on a hot-air balloon ride over miles of stupas and pagodas.
That month was the best time of my entire life. I was with my family. I hope that you can understand our emotional attachment. The only metaphor for my feelings parallels how a couple feels when they adopt a child. How long does it take the parents before the child is theirs? It happens in less than a nanosecond. They don’t refer to the child as their adopted child; it is their child. Ti Ti’s parents are my children, and Ti Ti and her younger sisters are my granddaughters. Our relationship is reciprocal. In my twilight years, I discovered my reason for being.
Ko Ko and Moh Moh planned our family tour. Most of the places we visited aren’t seen by American tourists. My granddaughters and I rode an elephant over the Alps of Myanmar. Once we left the elephants’ base camp, our entire ride consisted of climbing up the mountainous terrain, which meant we had to climb down the mountainous area to return to the base camp. The four of us survived that ordeal.
Not far from Bagan, we visited the small village of Set Set Yo. Moh Moh and Ko Ko wanted to visit that village as a part of our itinerary. They had several dozen notebooks and pencils for the school-age children of the village.
I enjoyed the time with the young children as Ko Ko and Moh Moh were distributing their gifts. I don’t recall picking up a small child who wasn’t even a toddler. Ti Ti and her uncle took this photo of the child and me.
Something happened between the child and me. It couldn’t have been more than ten seconds when I realized that something had occurred between us. This small child’s eyes and mine locked together. I don’t recall much of that moment other than us looking at each other. As we stared at each other, we both attempted to grasp that moment.
This video is of me flipping young children and carrying the child around.
I mentioned that experience to Moh Moh. I said that it was like the time that Ti Ti and I connected. Moh Moh said that I had just discovered my great-granddaughter. I had. I wrote about the little one, which is what I called the child. I finally asked Moh Moh to translate the little one into Myanmar. Her name is now A Ngal Lay.
Extending my family with A Ngal Lay is a great blessing for me. It is how I feel about my family in Myanmar. However, the blessing aspect comes with a haunting discomfort. Our lives changed in that short moment in time. I remember it, but A Ngal Lay won’t.
Enter Than, my artist friend. Even though I can’t paint, I have taught art history at the college level for years. Than isn’t a post-impressionist like Vincent van Gogh. However, he shares the same ability to paint landscapes, portraits, and still lifes as van Gogh was able to do. Therefore, I commissioned Than to paint a picture of the photo of A Ngal Lay and me. There was one caveat; I requested that he include photographs of his progress from start to finish.
My house is filled with pictures and paintings of my family in Myanmar.
I have no control over when I could return to visit my family and our extended family. I would cherish sitting with A Ngal Lay and talking to my great-granddaughter. However, things like the military coup stand in the way. Additionally, I’m living in my twilight years, which means my lifetime is limited.
Last week, my family visited A Ngal Lay and her family. When they returned home, Moh Moh sent me several pictures of our extended family. This is A Ngal Lay, who is four years old. As I sat at my computer and looked at the pictures, I was happy to see the little one had grown a lot, but I cried. I recalled holding her when she wasn’t quite a year old.
We looked at each other. She attempted to process who the old guy with white hair was and what he was thinking. And I was looking at a child beginning her journey down the yellow brick road of life. That moment in time was between a very young child and an old man trying to absorb the moment. This is A Ngal Lay today.
This is my family with A Ngal Lay. My family will remember the time with her, but it will be forgotten by her.
The painting that Than did for me hangs in their living room. A Ngal Lay will become interested in the painting in the next few years.
I wonder what she will think as she attempts to understand why some old guy saw great value in her. I would love to know how she processes our time together. Her parents will tell her about me. They will say that some old American was delighted to have discovered a very special young lady.
However, this photo haunts me the most. It has taken a long time to write this essay. I have spent hours crying, editing, and wondering. My mind darted back to my three trips to Myanmar. Then I jump to the present. Ti Ti wants to get a student visa, come to America, and live in my home with Ginger and PaPa Al while she gets her college education in America.
This photo is of Ti Ti’s office in my home. The two pictures on the wall next to her bookshelf are pictures of two ladies. Aung San Suu Kyi is Ti Ti’s most influential mentor. She wants to get her college education in the States and then make her country a better place by following in the footsteps of the Lady. A Ngal Lay will have two mentors to follow as she grows up.