On Friday I made last-minute reservations to go to the temple I visited in December. It takes six hours to get there, but I felt like I really, really needed to go and get rid of some stress.
Then I woke up from this strange little dream.
I was sitting on a bench with the European monk and eating a large bowl of strawberries. Just stuffing them in my mouth by the fistfuls, eying him self-consciously. Why was he looking at me funny? Was I growing another zit on my forehead? Was he afraid I was going to say something stupid?
We were seating in the mountains, overlooking rice fields and folk houses. I could hear voices from down below, but no one popped out of the doors.
He was wearing his cranberry robes. I wore a red, hooded sweatshirt with "Dr. Pepper" written across the front, and no pants.
The sun was rising. I could sense we'd just finished meditating in the main hall.
"How does a European become a monk in Korea?" I asked.
He ran his hand over his shaved head and shrugged. "Is that important?"
"I'm a writer . . . I was a writer," I corrected, shoving more strawberries in my mouth. "Details are important to me. Don't you miss your friends or family?"
"Why do you make yourself so sad? Look where we are."
I set the empty container aside, reached over and pulled out a new batch. "Yeah, it's beautiful here. But I think of them a lot, especially my father."
"You think of them sometimes. And you aren't go to fly to California just yet, are you?"
I placed the bowl aside and hugged myself, my heavy head between my knees.
"If I go back," I sighed, "I'll just hurt them. I'll be so sad and confused and sentimental. They won't know what to do with me."
"So if you want them to be happy, you'll have to be happy first."
"It sounds terrible when you say it."
"Is it? It makes sense. Your parents top priority is seeing you happy. They've said that all along. Considering your history, they'll understand if you decide to stay.
" You're making changes in your life and feeling better. The only thing that gives you anxiety is the thought of visiting California."
I sat up and nodded. "I know my father is getting better. But if I see one look of pain on his face, I'll never let him go."
"Our entire lives are filled with pain. That's just the way things are. Look where we are. Every day a little piece of this country is torn apart and replaced with a factory or apartment complex. And you don't like it.
"But in order to truly feel at peace with yourself, you have to accept the ugliness. The buildings are everywhere. Even these temples disturb nature. But it all has to coexist, in the landscape and your mind.
"You know your father will be okay, and a part of you has accepted that he won't be the same. Now, accept your shame and disappointment and move on.
"Accept that you will be happy here, and that you'll never leave Korea, no matter where you are."
I looked forward to see the sun high above us. Feathery clouds drifted past us, and beyond them I could see a sky so perfectly blue I felt as if I was on another planet. I could hear birds calling in the distance, and leaves shaking in the wind.
From below, people had begun to emerge from their houses. The day had started.
I turned back to him and folded my hands into my lap. "I'm in love with you."
He shook his head, a small smile on his face. "No, you're not. Look a little farther."
I woke up with a start, and promptly canceled my reservation.
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