Awe at Leopard’s Gate

The internet is down this morning. This happens regularly here in Laos – it goes down with no warning and stays down anywhere from ten minutes to ten hours. I am less ruffled by this than I once would have been, but still… after five days away I was looking forward to browsing my unread email, and checking facebook, and staring at twitter (which I just joined last week) with a sort of wary and puzzled fascination. I wanted to browse CNN and BBC. I wanted to see if family were on skype. I wanted to connect with the world.

Mike and I have been very disconnected this last couple of days. Mike did not to bring his work computer on our trip to Siem Reap, and we made every effort to avoid talking about his work for the three full days in the middle. I hadn’t intended to so wholly take a break from my own life, but by the time we’d been in Cambodia 24 hours all the immediate urgency of my own work just… seemed to matter less.

By the time we’d been there a day we’d already been gently greeted by smiling hotel staff who moved through the corridors like a corps of dancers.

We’d taken a boat trip out to the alternate universe of the Chong Kneas floating village. The village migrates along a vast inland Tonle Sap river with the annual rise and fall of the water. It has five schools, seven fish wholesalers, three gas stations, one health post, and four karaoke bars.

We’d also seen three temples. Mike climbed to the top of the third one while I sat under a tree on cool stone and squinted my eyes and gazed at this temple, standing so still in the middle of a lake, and imagined what it looked like a thousand years earlier, and how pilgrims – approaching it on foot through the rice paddies and trees – might have felt. Then I thought about the human instinct to create grand monuments to honor a story larger than our own. Then I thought about how hot it was.

Mike bounded back from the temple, smiling.

“I heard you laughing at the top all the way from here,” I said.

“Really??” he asked, looking at the distance. “I was waiting for this Australian woman in front of me to scramble up those steep stairs at the top. She was sweaty and struggling, and she said she felt like a monkey. So I told her that she didn’t look at all like a monkey. Then I asked if that was the nicest thing anyone had said to her all day.”

“Indeed,” I said. “What did she say?”

“She thought about it for a second and said, ‘I do believe that it is’.”

“So,” Mike said, sitting down on the rock beside me and pulling out the map. “I think we should go this way.”

The route he traced was probably longer than the one I would have chosen – it would take us past two more small temples before looping back around to the great stone walkways near the entrance. On the other hand, it wound through the trees – trees that would provide shade.

“Great,” I said, standing up.

We were walking through the forest five minutes later when we stumbled upon Leopard’s Gate and I had one of those moments when I could almost hear my perspective shift. Sometimes my perspective shifts sound like an eighteen-wheeler struggling with a gear change – all grinding metal and squealing engines and me swearing and surly. Other times, however, like this moment at Leopard’s gate, they sound like a camera shutter – a subtle, definitive, right-angled-corner of a sound.

Leopard’s Gate wasn’t nearly as grand as many of the other temples we saw this week. It was just a crumbling stone arch standing silent among the trees. But there was something about the way the sunlight – filtered by the leaves – lay down gently on the moss-covered stones. The gate glowed that morning, as it likely had on other mornings for a thousand years. And as we walked through it, all of my thoughts about work and writing took several respectful steps backwards.

It was a relief to let go of it all for a couple of days – the book and the blog, the consulting project due before the end of next month, the tangle of boxes to unpack, the cacophony over the back fence, facebook, twitter, CNN, skype, and google. It was a relief to focus instead on the visions and the painstaking and patient labor of people long since gone – to wallow in the restorative balm of awe.

But now we are back. Mike headed back to the airport less than an hour after we got home. He flew down to Vientiane last night for three days, so I am here solo and ready to pick up the threads of my life… except, some of those threads are hard to pick up without the world wide web.

Oh well. The internet will come back on eventually and I am relatively sure the rest of the world will still be there to connect with when it does. In the meantime, it is blessedly quiet in this house this morning. There are no power tools going over the back fence to strip me of the last of the cathedral hush I’ve carried back from Cambodia, and there are plenty of boxes to unpack around here.



2 responses to “Awe at Leopard’s Gate

  1. Beautiful, Lisa. Absolutely beautiful.

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