I've set foot in two synagogues, countless churches and mosques in my life, but prior to Nepal, I had only visited one Buddhist monastery, Namgyal Monastery in Ithaca, New York. There was snow on the ground, and a tremendous weight in my heart. At the gentle coaxing of my sweet friend, who was studying at Namgyal, I wrapped myself up in my warmest scarf and crunched down the white streets toward a wooden house of wild colour. I felt like a mouse; I wanted to hide, but the warm eyes and smile of a red-robed monk did something to quiet the thunder in my chest.
Nearly a decade later, as Melissa and I were circling the stupa in Boudhanath, we looked at each other and agreed that the day had come to visit Tsamchen Gompa. We passed the brilliantly painted monastery every day, but we were always going to or coming from something. Time was necessary to appreciate the little building, which was delicately painted from floor to ceiling in elaborate murals.
As I gazed into the eyes of Buddha from the upper balcony, I thought about that dark winter night in Ithaca. Years had evaporated like breath in the cold, memory and the notion of a past felt like something I had dreamt the night before. Aware that soon the smells and sounds of Boudha would be a dream, I tried to grasp every possible molecule of the moment— the wind, the pigeons, the laughter, the om mani padme hum, the snapping of prayer flags. A figure approached, a monk. We exchanged smiles and quietly chatted for a few minutes before he invited me and Melissa into the shrine room.
Wisps of incense, glowing golden butter candles, my heartbeat, his voice— I wanted the moment to last forever, but it passed in a blink.