Once upon a time I had very few possessions. And in the process of owning of very little, and feeling quite a lot, I liberated myself from much undue suffering that I had haunted me for much of my life.
In each moment, I was born anew, and asked in return favor to my creator, to deliver me what I needed now, or later. I’d continue growing, sowing, and showing, despite not knowing, where I might be going next.
It was at this time that I felt the world around me so deeply. My life was vibrant, I felt healthy. I was very rich.
How did I come to see the world as such? Wanting for so little, and not really asking for much?
Before leaving for my travels, I had bought many things, and I felt sure that these many would help protect me from myself on my journey onward.
I spent the money on the things I had worked for, multiple packages of PeptoBismol and a renewed year-long prescription on my Nuva Ring, and all of appropriate clothing I would need for a dry, desert-like climate. I could fit it all into a large, red suitcase. My cat would hide in the lining. He wanted to be a part of it too.
When I arrived, the room I had been given had come somewhat already equipped. As S, the previous fellow, had left many of her belongings, and had returned home without them due to her mother’s passing.
I exclaimed with glee upon entering the room. She had left behind many things, including a French Press and 3 bags of coffee. I had made it all the way to rural China, and now look at all the delicious treats that were waiting for me in what was now my new room.
But B, who had known S or the past year, asked me if she could see the room first, before I moved my own things in.
“We have to talk to her first. See what she wants us to send back.” I had never encountered such wisdom and graciousness as this. And from my own internal suffering I wondered: How had I been conditioned to enact such a subconscious sense of entitlement?
“I have arrived! There is something I want, so thus, it is mine!”
How would this behavior make this person whose territory I had encroached upon, really feel? The one who had given up a life here in this room that had been created to manifest a felt sense of a joy and purpose, the one who took nothing into something intensely meaningful, and the one now gone to mourn the deceased? Through these things I was asked to know the part of me that also had carried such my things such a long way, to know that upon arriving, I truly had nothing, because I had not created such connections yet, as the one that she and B had developed. One that said, “No, those are her things, and I will respect the wishes of those who have come and moved along.”
I learned to take such gifts that remained in the room with stride. A set of shelves, English flashcards, toys for the children I’d soon be teaching.
I cleaned out the room. I realized I had more than I knew. There was not enough space for all of the belongings she had left behind. There was not enough space for my own.
Please, I thought. Someone come and take S’s stuff. Send it back to America now. I just don’t have the space.
But it remained there. For many months. It watched me while I struggled with teaching, and while I fell asleep at night, hurt, crying, wanting to go home and back to America.
Maybe B sent it back eventually. I’m not sure. Maybe the pain of knowing her mother’s body had departed from this world mattered more than whatever was in the case.
I would receive many more packages from American friends in the coming years. A package from my aunt with packages full of Hershey kisses and Halloween toys, National Park flashcards from my Christian church minister, a block of Parmesan cheese from my mother, postcards from my college roommate, a blue scarf from a local teachers, a nautilus necklace from the owners of the hostel where I stayed, and eventually, once I credited it, bushels upon bushels of watermelon and pomegranates from my good friend Uncle Yang. Giving gifts became a part of a tradition I grew to cherish as well. I purchased a book of translated poetry and a blank journal for my co-fellow, D. Adorned blue beaded friendship bracelets for my two best friends who commiserated with me in hotel rooms on the weekends over cups of Oreo-yogurts and episodes of the Mindy Project.
I even departed with a saxophone, that I had since I was nine, my father bought it for me, but did I know that it was mine? Did I need three? I gave to to Yang upon parting, with the wish that one day, it could be possible, that there was a child in the village who would learn to love it just as much as me…