Sanur Stories Pt 2
(While this story works as a stand-alone, it’s actually a continuation. You may want to read Part 1)
“So, are you going to tell me about your father?”
The question hung heavy in the air, like the stormclouds that had rolled through the night before.
I’d mentioned my dad the day before, when we talked about the tribal tradition of using tattoos to honor one’s ancestors.
I had told her then: “There’s an image that’s been floating around in my head since I left, and it’s of one of my dad’s tattoos. It’s a real cool looking old dude, happily walking with a long white beard flowing behind him, and the words ‘just passing through’. My dad and I have talked about the fact that there’s a possibility he may not be around anymore when I get back from this trip, and I think that image just captures something about a philosophy we share”.
“Ah you already have that tattoo” she said then,“Its your family story. You just wear it under your skin.”
A tear emerged at her response, but the conversation soon shifted in another direction.
Now, the next day, we sat sheltered from the fiery sun; overlooking the midday deep blue ocean, as it peered over yellow-green fields between our patio and the beach. I’d been strangely tense all morning, maybe from a sense of guilt for being so far removed from the responsibilities I was used to at home. Or maybe the tension was just lack of sleep, since the two dueling nightclubs down the road had continued blaring, even past the jolting rooster calls started around 3 o’clock. This moment, though was quiet pleasant. The view enchanted our eyes, and the sea’s come-hither breezes cooled our sweat-covered bodies.
And here again, the question of my dad hung like fog.
Again, as they did with she and I, hearts opened wide for sharing – joys, pains, fears, everything it was to be alive. My dad’s had several serious health scares throughout my adult life, and there are a lot of question marks for him following a couple recent strokes.
He’d shared with me that he’d had a strange mix of intense emotions about my going on this trip, which was new, despite my past travels. He suspected it had something to do with how unknown this trip was – I had no plans beyond accommodation booked for the first week, but he was experiencing a new strange sort of worry he hadn’t felt before.
I’m sure the uncertainties in his own health and future had to have made up some part of the mix.
“It’s hard… causing discomfort for someone I love so much, who’s going through so much of his own struggle right now… but needing to go anyway. Needing to take this trip even though it hurts, for so many people.”
My travelling companion just sat with me, holding, and understanding.
“It’s that way with some of my company’s clients, too” I said, finding a road to a quieter, subtler pain within myself. “I have very tender relationships with them, and some of them I know are quite personally attached to me. I know it hurts them to see me go. It aches in my heart that I can’t make that better, by staying put anymore. I’ve tried really hard to avoid causing pain for anyone else. I’ve tried really hard for the last 7 years, and slowly boxed up some part of me that needs to live, in the process.”
“Yes, you’ve been working very hard, for a long time.” She said. “I could see that in you when we first met. I thought ‘This woman needs to be here.’”
I started to quietly cry – some of my most intimate, most insistent pain being seen, reflected, supported. She scooted herself closer to me, and wrapped her arm around my back, pulling me into the comfort of her side.
Moments later, my sadness was replaced with a twisting yank of guilt.
“I’m so so sorry”, I blurted out “It’s terribly rude, and I feel so connected to you, and have had the most lovely couple days getting to know you, but I was so tired when we first met that now I don’t know your name.”
“Don’t apologize for that.” She said… “My name doesn’t matter; people call me a hundred different things”, and she shared stories of her name, and its origins, and the labels her family had used, others friends had used. She told me of when a renowned tribal tatoo artist (really a spiritual storyteller), whom she’d spent days side-by-side with, exploring the depths of the soul, was asked what her name was he’d said ‘I don’t know… I call her girl, or nothing at all.” The name was immaterial to their spiritual understanding of one another.
“Man, its so different from America, where everyone is so so deeply attached to their names.” I said.
“I know; I’m from western culture too. I know how it matters to people. But it doesn’t matter to me. I know your name, because names just stick with me, but it doesn’t tell me who a person is. I know you – the person. The good person.”
Forgiven for the ultimate social transgression of the west, our conversation continued winding through the afternoon. Exploring intricate nooks and crannies of identity and meaning, as it always did. Eventually my heart started to swell with gratitude for this striking new friendship.
“I’m glad you’re here.” I admitted with the timid affection of people who haven’t yet expressed their caring for each other.
“I was just about to say the same” she said. “I’m glad you’re here”.
An surprising burst of emotion kicked my throat from within, and tears welled in my eyes.
“I don’t know why hearing you say that makes me cry” I said.
She sat quietly for a moment, with her hand simply cradling me, on the small of my back.
“Might not be from what we’re talking about now. Tears emptying from another box, maybe. This place has a way of opening boxes; you’ll do a lot of that here.”
“Ah… we come to Bali to spring clean our insides, then?” I asked.
She threw her head back as she laughed, and then nodded. Her own many summers of cleaning, emptying, being emptied by this land, shimmered behind the rich brown of her eyes.
As suddenly as it had started, the crying stopped, ushered out by a windy breath of relief from somewhere deep in my belly.
“That’s a good breath” she said, her hand still on my back, her gaze still far out over the sea. The box just opened, it seemed, was now emptied. Bali’s medicine for this moment was complete.
We sat silently for a few moments, again transfixed by the immutable beauty in front of us. Me, the breeze, and the woman with a hundred names, and no name.