Returning from the voyage to my son who will turn thirty in a week, I watch the images of our last hours together drift across the sky outside the window. After having coffee that morning, he drove me to a spot in the outskirts of Bloomington where suburban houses gave way between to woods. I’m no longer used to deciduous forests. The twisting black forms of the oaks contrasting with the lighter ash and the understory trees, clinging to their brown and whitening leaves is extraordinary to me now.
My son was driving and we were bathing in the kind of comfortable companionship we haven’t been able to experience together for many years. We had spent hours together relaxing in his rented house with his girlfriend and without her. Unwinding the time, there were the right moments to ask questions, the right moments to say things long unsaid, the right moments to dive in to answers long unarticulated, to cry some, to laugh some. We talked about the way we experience things. We even meditated together. There was enough time for it all.
It was my last morning with him. After we went for coffee and pastry at his favorite coffee shop, I suggest there’s time for a walk before he drops me off at the bus to the airport. He thinks a bit and says he knows a place he’d like to show me, a place nearby he hasn’t been to yet. That was why we were driving now through these forests of twisting dark winter bark.
He thinks we are close. We see a wooden sign with colorful letters saying “Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center.” He explains he had heard about this place from a friend, with its peaceful walks on the grounds. Some sense like the quickening of pregnancy touches me–that this man, my son, the economist, the rationalist, would chose this place to come with me. A curious tickling thing awakening somewhere inside the vastness of my mind.
We drive in slowly past a shrine in the trees and prayer flags draped through the woods. As we park in front of a brick building decorated with dark red, green and yellow paint and with golden figures perched on the roof, we look at each other briefly, seeing reflected a bit of surprise and wonder. Getting out of the car and walking towards the entrance, we take in the surrounding grounds, with stupa, grass and walkways. In a state of unknowing, we wander in through the entrance. As we look at the displays in the hallway, a young monk, dressed in maroon robes, passes by into the gift shop. We follow, nodding hello.
My son is captivated by the sacred paintings and artifacts in the shop. As I look around, I find he has lingered over a wall of prayer beads. He says “I want to buy something. I feel like contributing to this place.” He lifts a set of black beads off the wall and asks what I think. Somehow, clearly, he has made an important choice. Something had drawn him to these. My son has recognized something. The connection is evident as he holds them in his hand. He pays the young monk who makes the transaction quietly.
We leave the building and to take our walk around the rest of the center. We examine the prayer wheel and spin it together, walk around the Stupa, feel the calm. At the far end of the stretch of grass is the temple, topped by golden figures. We take off our shoes in the entry hall and walk into a room of splendor, walls painted orange and covered with Tibetan sacred paintings, topped by intricate green and maroon designs. A golden Buddha presides over a large alter with paintings, flowers, a photo of the Dalai Lama. Icons of other religions are placed around the hall. Abundance. A spontaneous mood of generosity, of bounty. We leave donations in the envelopes, wherever they go. Again in calm, we retrieve our shoes in the entrance hall and walk out together, connected by fronds of silence.
We take photos of each other against the background of the bare forest and the prayer flags, forgetting the rest of the walk we came for.
Now I am at the airport again, watching the sky through the large windows, feeling the presence of my son who hugged me, got back into his car there in front of this airport and returned to his home and his computer, and later to make dinner with his girlfriend, following out the threads of a life hidden to me, like the lands beneath the clouds.