The Oldest Man in the World

So, here I am, climbing ever upward on the rather steep stairway to heaven. I’ve almost reached the top…the finish..the glorious conclusion. But then, rather surprisingly, I bump into god who is heading down the stairs in the opposite direction… Nah. You will never believe that one. Way too much metaphor. In reality, I’m hiking alone in the high Himalayan Mountains of Nepal and I have an interesting encounter with an elderly Tibetan man. And then, shortly thereafter, I reach a place that is so heavenly that I have to write a poem about it. In this week’s posting, I’m doing a little time reversal trick for dramatic effect. I lead with the poem and unrelated photos from another trip and then follow with the story even though in reality it happened the other way around.  This is also my last story from the archives for a while.  Starting New Year’s Day, I’m going live in the present time on a brand new journey.

Heaven

Cold to the bone
Surrounded by stone
Heaven is barren and spare…

Snow covered peaks
I’m so small and weak
Gasping and wheezing for air…

Sun going down, shines joy all around…  And the glaciers glitter like gold.

Here there is peace       A perfect release…  a vision of god to behold…

The river rushes past With a gurgle and a splash…  A sound so wonderful to hear..

The wind blows through
With a spirit true
And the air is crisp and clear…

In places like this, in touch with the bliss, the world seem so far away…

Drifting upstream, in a Shangra La dream…

I have nothing more to say…

So, here I am, somewhere in the mountains of Nepal. I’m trying to reach a small village which is near the Tibetan border. I started at sunrise and walked all day. I have to be close but I don’t know how close. I’m tired…exhausted…on the verge of collapse. Maybe I should have stayed in that village about ten miles back. What if I don’t make it to my destination? It’s cold now and going to be icy cold later. I don’t want to spend the night outside. I see a big round boulder on the side of a semi-frozen stream. It looks like a Buddha boulder…a perfect resting place for a weary soul. I stop. The sun is setting behind the snow capped peaks. I don’t want to walk in the dark. But I need to sit down for just a little while.

He trudges down the trail towards me with the hunched over but strong walk of a mountain person. As he gets closer, I notice that his clothes are nothing but rags; torn bits of cloth haphazardly sewn together. Grey stubble hair barely covers his recently shaved head. He looks up from the pathway and notices me through slanted Tibetan eyes. There are not just wrinkles in his face, but cracks and crevasses; as deep as the canyons of these Himalayas. “Namaste,” he says as his eyes twinkle.

“Namaste,” I respond politely.

He walks over and sits down next to me on the boulder. He lifts up his left  foot and points at it. Bare toes and heel poke out through torn sneakers. “Need money for new shoes,” he says. The corners of his cracked lips turn upwards with a hesitant smile.  An icy mountain wind blows through. I shiver and notice again the old man’s rags. They are worn threadbare, torn and patched over again. They look like he found them in a dumpster but there are no dumpsters up here in the mountains. It’s definitely no protection from the glacial cold.

“I’m sorry, but I have no money to give,” I say honestly.

The hesitant smile of the old man flattens to a frown. His eyes ache. He looks like he is about to cry.

“But I do have this,” I add.  I turn around and reach into my backpack. The heavy extra sweatshirt weighs me down. I don’t need it. I really don’t. I retrieve the sweatshirt and hand it over.

The old man smiles. The centuries are in his eyes; the ages. I get the odd feeling that this whole encounter has happened before.

“Thank you,” he says, “and now this for you.” A bronze medallion dangles on a flimsy string in front of the old man’s chest. He leans forward and slowly lifts the string and medallion off his slumped shoulders and over his head.
He signals for me to lean forward and I do.

“Always remember,” he says, as he puts the medallion around my neck, “when all the world is chaos… and it will be…peace is at the very center…here, in your heart.”  He reaches out his hand and lightly presses the medallion into my chest. There, at the center, where he touches me, I feel the glow; the warm, comfortable, perfect glow… Is it god?

The old man smiles; forever in a face; eternity in the eyes. He releases his hand, stands up from the boulder and slowly, slowly, walks away.

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