Reflections on My Life
In My Twilight Years

I returned from my third trip to Myanmar a couple weeks ago during winter break from teaching. This was my third journey to what used to be called Burma. I have visited this country three times in the past half dozen years. I tell people when they ask about my trip and tell people even if they don’t ask, that this trip was the best trip in all of my journeys in the past half century by far. Each of the three trips was better than the last. However, this recent trip was exponentially far greater than any of all my other overseas trip.

That is all true. Spending time with my three granddaughters, Ti Ti, Snow, and Fatty along with their parents, Ko Ko and Moh Moh, was incredible. I’m not blowing smoke. Even when I was with my family, I asked Ko Ko and Moh Moh to explain what took place between us. That conversation occurred more than once. In fact, on my last day in Myanmar just before I went to the airport to fly home, I asked Tin Tin, who is also a very good friend of mine and owner of SunBird Tours in Yangon, to explain what occurred between my family and me. In fact, I ask her that question in the last part of my interview with her, which will be on my webpage soon.

Both Tin Tin and Ko Ko essentially had similar thoughts. However, as much as I love the two of them, their ideas don’t satisfy my haunting question. Why?

This is how I feel.

Regardless, I feel like an ancient sailor returning home from years at sea. Roger Whittaker’s The Last Farewell puts some of my emotional feelings into that song.

There's a ship lies rigged and ready in the harbor
Tomorrow for old England she sails
Far away from your land of endless sunshine
To my land full of rainy skies and gales

And I shall be aboard that ship tomorrow
Though my heart is full of tears at this farewell

For you are beautiful, I have loved you dearly
More dearly than the spoken word can tell
For you are beautiful, I have loved you dearly
More dearly than the spoken word can tell

I've heard there's a wicked war a-blazing
And the taste of war I know so very well
Even now I see the foreign flag a-raising
Their guns on fire as we sail into hell
I have no fear of death, it brings no sorrow
But how bitter will be this last farewell

For you are beautiful, I have loved you dearly
More dearly than the spoken word can tell
For you are beautiful, I have loved you dearly
More dearly than the spoken word can tell

Though death and darkness gather all about me
My ship be torn apart upon the seas
I shall smell again the fragrance of these islands
And the heaving waves that brought me once to thee
And should I return home safe again to England
I shall watch the English mist roll through the dell

For you are beautiful, I have loved you dearly
More dearly than the spoken word can tell
For you are beautiful, I have loved you dearly
More dearly than the spoken word can tell

That song really resonates with me emotionally. However, I am not certain whether I was leaving Myanmar or America. I’m catch in that abyss while I try to find myself. I love my home in the States, but I equally love my home in Myanmar…and both contain parts of my family.

Nonetheless, I am attempting to catch up with a long litany of things that I have to do here in the States while I mourn leaving my other world in South Asia. Talk about a gut-wrenching feeling. In spite of this emotional dilemma, there is a strange paradox about my family there on the other side of the world. Our two families are both similar and dissimilar…all at the same time.

I stumbled into their world six years ago. I wanted to interview Aung San Suu Kyi, and, while in that country, I wanted to see what used to be called Burma. In that process, I discovered a part of my larger family. Nevertheless, I came with a lot of baggage.

Let me explain some of my baggage. I was fortunate to have been born 77 years ago in America, which if compared to most of the rest of the world is quite rich and well off. While I am not rich, I am lucky to have enough to travel. That is how I discovered my family. The question is how to express my love and care without creating mixed feelings with them. They live in an emerging country, which means that a vast majority of people of Myanmar aren’t as fortunate as many are here in the States.

I have had several long discussions with Moh Moh and Ko Ko about the reality that we both have given the other party gifts. The most important gifts are love and caring. I have tried to express to them that they initiated this gift giving. In response to that, I responded to them in the same way. What we give to each other are the expressions of caring unrelated to money. I know that sharing with each other is necessary, but it is also dangerous when money enters the picture. I know that my various means of expressions were accepted in the same way that I accepted their love and concern for me even though we come from two different financial worlds.

Beyond those issues, I have changed my Weltanschauung here in America. I am ethically responsible for how I conduct my life. I’m 77-years old. I have done the dance with death twice. My dances and my family have radically changed me. It seems to me that Americans need to do a great deal of soul-searching about how they conduct their individual lives. I am fully aware that getting others in my world of America to buy into my Weltanschauung or worldview is based upon the assumption that everyone has had the same experiences as I have. However, I know that isn’t true. None of us are clones of each other.

Nonetheless, we all need to look at what is important to us as individuals. Do yourself a favor. Make of list of the most important and loved people in your personal life. Now, who are the people about whom you really care about significantly?

Okay, I’ll make that question much clearer and more to the point. On your list of people that you love, how much will you share monetarily with them without any sort of reservation on your part. Another way to say that is how much will you give without getting? That really narrows all of our lists, doesn’t it?

However, if you wish to live a life with a purpose other than being that purpose yourself, our list needs to be expanded. Why? Well, we need help those we love by sharing. That is a basic ethical issue. Life is not merely about helping ourselves. However, remember this truism that I came up with years ago. It is in giving that we get. If you want to be rewarded, it will be based upon what you share.

In my previous essay, A Present-Day Parable, I wrote about meeting the parents of Sandy, my web administrator in Lahore, Pakistan on my way to visit my family in Myanmar. All that I was going to do was to thank her parents for Sandy’s help with my webpage and have her brother drive me to the Lhewra Salt Mine the next day. Then I would fly to Myanmar…that was all.

Well, what I discovered was a group of Muslim guys who were friends with Sandy’s father. After that experience, I wrote a 21st century parable similar to the Parable of the Good Samaritan. My version is the Parable of the Good Muslims.

One final thought. When I was in high school, I had to memorize 100-lines from prose or poetry for English class each semester. I hated that…back then. Now, it is a blessing. I still can recall many lines from six decades ago like this one.

For the gift without the giver is bare

This stanza is from The Vision of Sir Launfal by James Russell Lowell. Sir Launfal was searching for the Holy Grail, but it alluded his long and arduous quest until he heard a voice….

And the voice that was softer than silence said:—
Lo, it is I, be not afraid!
In many climes, without avail,
Thou hast spent thy life for the Holy Grail:
Behold, it is here,—this cup which thou
Didst fill at the streamlet for me but now;
This crust is my body broken for thee,
This water His blood that died on the tree;
The Holy Supper is kept indeed
In whatso we share with another’s need.
Not what we give, but what we share,—
For the gift without the giver is bare;
Who gives himself with his alms feeds three,—
Himself, his hungering neighbor, and me.”

It is in giving that we get.