Tuesday, September 16, 2008

a smile (part 3)

sadness is such an encompassing emotion. such an overpowering emotion. it can derail you with such ease that you can find progress to feel so hopeless. it can propel you so deep into yourself, that everything else just fades away. everything else feels fake or invisible. so, if you're like me, you bury it. you bury it and replace it with other, less debilitating emotions.

we walked the streets of downtown siem reap for most of that first day. robert and monique shopped, we ate, we had beers, we took in this strange, new place. i found myself surrounded with a sadness i could not bury, for the first time since years before. since quiet days in san francisco. since the days when my heart was so broken i felt it could never be repaired. since i learned that the only way i could overcome the overpowering, encompassing, hopeless sadness was to bury it. for years and through vast turmoils, i'd been burying it all. and now, now it was everywhere.

we'd eaten an early dinner. and much like our first meal, and every meal to follow, it was amassed in a shroud of watchful hunger. it was impossible to ignore. to deny. to escape. the truth was i didn't want to. for the first time in so long, i didn't want to see beyond the sadness and the pain. this could not be buried. it was too big. too universal. much too much. and i felt so useless. so limited. so trapped in inability. i'd spent the last week celebrating how much bang i could get for my buck in southeast asia. i'd bought extra food when i couldn't decide what to eat. i drank multiple beers and smoothies. i was living in excess. i was everything i claimed to hate here in the states. and here, all around me, was the consequence of our excesses. more starving and homeless and helpless people than not. kids selling themselves for a meal or a moment off the street. it was much too much.

i scraped my meal into a to-go box. and i found a boy. i don't remember much about his clothes, whether he wore any at all. i remember finding him, sitting alone in the dark. on a street corner. on his knees and in his own world. he was completely oblivious to everything happening around him. he was not begging. he was not crying. he was simply alone and much too young to be alone in a place that like, in a time like this. we still can't quite agree on how old he was. i say five or six. monique thinks eight or nine. all the same, any age is too young to be living that life. or barely living it at all. but the reason i don't remember what he was wearing, is the smile on his face. we caught him completely by surprise when we approached. and from what i can tell, he spoke no english. but when i handed him the box of food, i had never and have not since seen a smile like his. it was the biggest, most sincere, most breath-taking, heart-breaking smile i'll probably ever know. over a box of fucking leftovers. even in writing about it now, i get choked up. it was the pinnacle in a life-changing trip. it was what i will remember most about those three weeks. it is, hopefully, what i will remember most about my life. a moment that changed who i am as a human being.

we walked back to our hotel in silence. i could not form a word to save my life. i was ambushed by emotion. i was over-taken by the years of repressed sadness. everything amounted to that moment. and i could no longer hide from it. it was here to stay, at least, for a while. and it was such a strange sadness. it was a sadness i'd previously wanted to write about; a sadness i thought i'd understood. and it was one that suddenly had me so tight i could hardly breathe. how do you weigh personal sadness against universal pain? is it selfish to do so? is it human? is it wrong to deny our own pain in the face of greater problems with grander solutions?

for the first time i years, i was overcome. by just a smile. all this for a smile.

1 comment:

Molly said...

Glad you wrote this, Josh. Very powerful and very needed in our world of excess.