The Little One,
A Part of My Family

Interestingly, a week ago was Ti Ti’s 17th birthday. I can understand much of my relationship with Ti Ti. I have written a litany of stories about her and how she linked our families together. I have photos in my home of my family in the States next to pictures of my family in Myanmar. The photos are visual reminders of how important my family is. However, there is one exception to my family photos. At the end of my desk, I have a small wooden frame that displays my family in Myanmar and another photo of Ti Ti studying. The other picture is of a little child that I met at Set Set Yo.

In a recent email to Moh Moh, I mentioned that I am haunted by that photo of the little one. Moh Moh replied that little one is a part of our family, which is true. But why? Why am I so obsessed about fully understanding why that is true. That idiosyncrasy of mine applies to everything in my life. I need to know why. For some reason, I want an explanation for everything. I am delighted about my feelings for my family and this small extension of our family but why.

You probably think that I should merely enjoy my happy happenstance meeting that little one and enjoy it. I am delighted that our two came together, but I need to know why. There are reasons for my drive to grasp and understand everything. The following is a thumbnail litany of the reasons.

I’m 78. I’ve danced with death twice and am fully aware that my clock is ticking. Unless you have done the dance, you don’t truly know that your days are numbered. Hey, before my dances, I thought the same thing. I knew that I wasn’t immortal. Nevertheless, my two dances were transformative for me. In fact, they were two of the best things that ever happened to me. I woke up to living. Ben Franklin warned us, “Some people die at twenty-five and aren’t buried until seventy-five.” My dances caused me to come alive.

Five thousand years ago, Gilgamesh was a king in the Sumerian city-state of Uruk. He wanted to live forever and went on a quest to find immortality and failed. Finally, he realized that immortality wasn’t possible. He said, “Forget death and seek life.” Gilgamesh spent the rest of his life doing good and noble things for others. As a result, he did find immortality. He lives in the minds of millions of people throughout the world.

I follow Gilgamesh’s mantra, “Forget death and seek life.” As a result, I discovered my family that lives near Inle Lake, Myanmar. We have a reciprocal relationship. Each of us is concerned about the other and will help each other. When Ti Ti found out that I was returning to visit them, she told her younger sisters that PaPa Al was coming back to visit them. I had met Snow and Fatty when Ti Ti and I met, but they were two and four at the time and had no memory of me.

Like Gilgamesh, I have immortality with my three granddaughters. When they grow up and have their own families, they will tell their children about PaPa Al. What is more important is that they will remember what I saw in them. Each of my granddaughters will remember what I admired about them. They will be able to go down their yellow brick roads of life knowing that some old guy from America loved them for who they are, for their talents, for their caring, and for the funny things we did together.

I hope that the civil unrest in Myanmar allows me to return soon. I want to go with them and their parents on our second family tour of their country. I want more time together in which we can create more memories.

However, what about this little one?

The little one is now two or two and a half. When I return, I want to spend some time with this little one. However, it won’t be during winter break from teaching at the end of this year due to the military coup. No one knows when that issue will be resolved. Regardless, the little one won’t remember me until he is at least five.

Therefore, this goes back to the immortality issue. Ti Ti, Snow, and Fatty will remember me. They are also aware of my admiration of them. However, I can’t guarantee when I’ll return to Myanmar, which means that visiting this little one who is an extension to our family will be sometime in the future.

I have no control over when I return. I’d love to be able to sit and talk with this little one about the two of us. However, I can control one thing. This is where Than enters the picture. He will paint a portrait of the two of us and give it to the little one’s parents. While I’d love to create memories for the two of us that we can both remember, the fact that some American saw something in a very young child is more important than us chatting sometime. His parents can show him Than’s painting of us. They will tell the little one about some old guy that lives on the other side of the world who saw value in him and loved him. In that brief moment, he and I were one for a few seconds. I can’t grasp why our eyes became linked together, but they were.

These few moments over a year and a half ago, in some way, parallels Ti Ti and I playing Scrabble. However, Ti Ti was nine years old. The little one wasn’t even a toddler. I feel like Gilgamesh. I want to reach out to that little one and leave my mark with him. I want to help him as he journeys down his yellow brick road of life.