Weight or lightness?

Weight or lightness?

There are many perks to teaching Kindergarten, especially in Thailand. For one, the kids all come with creative and entertaining names like Pinky, Earth, Tigger, and my personal favorite, Creamy. There’s even an appropriately named kid that is as wide as he is tall named Sandwich. There’s Ohm who comes to school every Friday (free dress day) in a Batman suit complete with a cape and mask and another named Garfield that comes in full Spiderman attire. There’s Mano who consistently gets lost on the way from the lunchroom to the classroom and is usually retrieved from outside where he is staring at the wall. There’s a kid named Mickey who always is quick to remind me that Mickey is a boy’s name. There’s a chubby kid named Alex who despite his sizeable body, always manages to wear pants too big for him and proceeds to be caught with his pants on the ground multiple times a day. Then there’s Best who singlehandedly makes me question my morals (especially the one where I shouldn’t hit a child).

Kids also have yet to develop a filter when they speak (well some adults are too) so everyday I have to prepare myself to hear the strangest, most unexpected things come out of their mouths. For example, one of the other teachers told me that as she was writing on the board, her back to the class, one of the students yelled out “Teacher? Why is it you have small head and big body?” No filter. Likewise, I was explaining locomotor and nonlocomotor movements to a 2nd grade Health class the other day and as I was mid-sentence a student blurts out “Teacher Mickey, have you ever been to Benjamin Franklin’s house?” Random. Just the other day I was speaking to a class and one of the students got up from his seat, came up to me and whispered in my ear “Um Teacher, Future just burped.”

Naptime is both a blessing and a curse. For as grateful as I am for silence and calm, it is excruciating watching children sleep and knowing you don’t have the same luxury. “Milk time” is also a thing here that happens twice a day, once at 10am and again after they wake up from their after-lunch naps. They sit in a line with their milk boxes at the ready and recite a minute-long Thai blessing, which ends with “Thank you teacher and milk”, after which they break open the straws and poke ‘em in the box. The same oration happens at lunchtime, except at the end it’s “Thank you teacher and food”. At first I thought this was strange, mildy robotic and slightly creepy but I now realize that it’s yet another example of the gratefulness and appreciation in Thai culture. Thais take the time to appreciate even the most necessary of life’s needs and never miss an opportunity to acknowledge them.

Despite all this daily entertainment, to say I’ve been going through a rough transition here in Ubon Ratchathani would be somewhat of an understatement; teaching is great but endlessly overwhelming, I feel pulled in so many different directions, spread too thin, constantly in need of air and never really getting it. At the same time, homesickness has hit me hard. I have a terribly unfortunate talent of never being 100% content with where I am. Now that I’m in Thailand, doing what I’ve dreamt about forever, I miss the simplicity and comfort of home and the familiarity of family, food and local hangouts. At the same time, if I were home right now instead of Thailand, I would hate it. Things would seem banal, lifeless, routine. I would constantly be wishing I were moving, on the road, learning new things from new places and new people. I am forever wishing for something other than what I have, continually treading the line between taking advantage of opportunities given to me here and now and struggling with the prospect that there may be better opportunities somewhere else. I am never living in the moment but constantly lost in possibilities of the future or a painful nostalgia for the past. While sitting at a café in Thailand enjoying 80 degree, sunny weather, sipping an iced drink for less than 50 cents and writing I am instead lost in daydreams of walking the cobblestoned streets of Paris in the winter or hiking rugged green trails in New Zealand. I should be realizing the amazing fortune I am living right here in this moment. I should be in awe of the insane beauty around me right here in this moment. I should be grateful for this opportunity offered to me right here in this moment.

I should, so I am. “Be here now” has become somewhat of a cliché mantra for me in the past few weeks and while I find it hard to do most of the time, I am actively trying. I did not come here because it was easy. I came because I know that through the hard times, culture shock, homesickness and loneliness that this experience will be rewarding in ways I cannot articulate. That’s what keeps me going. That’s what keeps me hopeful.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this quote from The Unbearable Lightness of Being.

“The heaviest of burdens crushes us, we sink beneath it, it pins us to the ground. But in love poetry of every age, the woman longs to be weighed down by the man’s body. The heaviest of burdens is therefore simultaneously an image of life’s most intense fulfillment. The heavier the burden, the closer our lives come to the earth, the more real and truthful they become. Conversely, the absolute absence of burden causes man to be lighter than air, to soar into heights, take leave of the earth and his earthly being, and become only half real, his movements as free as they are insignificant. What then shall we choose? Weight or lightness?”

As much as the weight is there to remind us of our commitments and of our love, the attraction of experiencing lightness is magnetic. Can you have both? Can you be both weighed down by your love for people, your commitments to morals, your desire to establish connections yet enjoy the lightness of true freedom, of no barriers to your goals, of making decisions solely based on your dreams. Can you have both?

I don’t know, but I really hope you can.

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