Grandma Lama

By Guest Contributor

In exchange for my willingness to do any miscellaneous tasks necessary for Scott Center Administrative Program Coordinator Ellen McKay and College Chaplain Laurie Jordan, I was given an all-access pass and permitted to join the organizers at every stage of the Dalai Lama’s third visit to Middlebury. Of all the unforgettable moments from the weekend, I was most profoundly shocked by how much the Dalai Lama reminded me of my grandparents. The first time he shook my hand, the marginal part of my mind that wasn’t being overwhelmed by the intensity of physical contact and the swarm of security guards and photographers was ripped back by sensory memory to one of the last times I held my late paternal grandfather’s hand. In the same way the smell your living room reminds you of home, everything about this grasp — from the weight of his hand to the velvet plush of his palm to his half-open mouth, vaguely pinched at the corners into a smile — evoked my “halabogi.”

Onstage, His Holiness morphed in likeness to maternal grandparents, as he spoke with their exact cadence, body language and humor; even his accent bore a strong resemblance. If my maternal grandparents merged into one form (mom?!), inhabited the body of my dad’s dad, spoke better English and had a marvelous translator at their/his side, we would have been the Dalai Lama. For example, His Holiness shared that his greatest regret was not studying harder when he was young, only wanting to play with his toy trains. Over lunch this past summer, my grandfather shared the exact sentiment. He lamented how he had spent too much of his twenties out late with his friends, drinking and carousing when he could have been establishing his career.

In another moment reminiscent of my grandparents, His Holiness didn’t ask, but rather commanded Senator Patrick Leahy to sign a photo that the latter was gifting him backstage before their speeches on Saturday morning. Senator Leahy exclaimed, “My signature? I want your signature!” The Dalai Lama shook his head and explicated in a deep and rationalizing voice with the help of a waving arm and a pointed finger, “No. You give me the pitchuh, so you put signachuh.” Then he laughed, presumably at how obvious this process should be, and Senator Leahy had to oblige to the pure sensibility. My grandmother would have acted the same — un-intimidated and armed with the truth.

The Dalai Lama echoed years of my grandparents’ and parents’ advice with his perspectives on spirituality, compassion, work ethic, happiness and so forth. What His Holiness says is true: his wisdom is everywhere and all education starts at home. I’ve seen the Dalai Lama speak a thousand times, just only from the mouth of my mother. Watching him this past weekend deepened my appreciation for the wisdom that I have been wrapped in, and sometimes beat over the head with, by my own kin. Even more, I realize how much there might be to learn from anyone, if I’m willing to open up a little bit. Ginsberg writes in the footnote to Howl: “The bum’s as holy as the seraphim, the madman’s as holy as you my soul are holy.” During his Saturday lecture, His Holiness proclaimed, “My blood is your blood. My bones are your bones.” And in just the same way, my grandma is the Dalai Lama.

Written by RYAN KIM ’14