It’s five am and the alarm is ringing. Here in McLeod Ganj, India, no one but monks and nuns gets up this early. But today it’s Losar, the Tibetan New Year. There are no celebrations today because of the suicide-protests in Tibet but His Holiness the Dalai Lama is still rumored to be presiding over the holiday’s opening prayers.
I’ve gotten no less than three different reports on what’s supposed to happen. He’s either making a quick appearance at 7, heading up the stairs to the main temple at 8, or he might not be there at all.
In any case, I’m not taking any chances. I missed him when he appeared with Desmond Tutu a couple of weeks ago, and though I pretended to myself to take it in stride, I was really, really bummed out.
So I meet my neighbor, Liv, downstairs and we begin our walk in the dark together. She’s a college student from Sweden whose doing course work here. She has a friend, a Tibetan woman named Sangmo, who we’re going to meet and go to the temple with.
We get to her house and though Sangmo is dressed and ready, she’s scrambling around to get her seven-year old daughter out of bed. Like any good mother she can do twelve things at once and as she lovingly but firmly goads her daughter to brush her teeth, comb her hair, put on her Losar best, she also makes us tea. She even remembers to offer us sugar and milk.
I watch Sangmo with admiration and delight because I know a little of her story. She was set up in an arranged marriage when she was sixteen or seventeen, just before her daughter was born. The man turned out to be violently abusive, so she left him. This wasn’t OK with her very traditional family. They disowned her, leaving her and her infant daughter to fend for themselves on the streets of Delhi.
She lived in shelters for years but somehow managed to get through school to become an accountant. Long story short, she found a good job with a non-profit here in McLeod Ganj and is now sending her daughter to a prestigious boarding school. In her spare time she’s planning to start a non-profit of her own that gets young girls off the streets and into school.
She is one of my new heroes.
We all head out the door to the temple. It’s just after six and still quite dark. When we arrive at the temple gates a few minutes later, there are only a few people milling about. We go in to the main temple complex, easily find a seat and wait.
More and more people stream in as the hours go by. Soon there are thousands, even though it seems to me that there’s really nothing going on. We can hear the monks chanting a few prayers in the main temple upstairs but that’s it. There was some talk of Tibetan dancing or other performances but so far it’s just a crowd of people waiting patiently for nothing to happen at all.
I wait with them. It’s colder now even though the sun is shining brightly. The wind has picked up and it’s blowing down from the mountains. A few flakes of snow begin to fall. I pull my sweater tight around me but it’s not the cold that I’m fighting. I’m thinking that I’m going to miss him again and that I just don’t want to bear.
But then it happens. A team of security guards clears a path through the crowd. A few thousand of us sit up straight, expectant. We hold up silk offering scarves and open hearts as we move to kneel. I see an entourage of high lamas in yellow-plumed hats leading His Holiness down the stairs. It’s very informal and he scurries off from side to side when he gets to the bottom, shaking hands with the crowd and laughing.
I look around and I still can’t comprehend the reverence that I see. I can’t comprehend the reverence I feel within myself. If you had shown me a picture of this scene just a few years ago, I would have thought you were joking.
But it’s not a joke. It’s for real and it’s beautiful and amazing and it fills me with such great hope that I’m about to burst with tears. So I do. Just like I always do whenever I see him.
His Holiness passes by not even twenty feet away. The tears are gone. It was just a micro burst this time. But I’m smiling. I’m smiling from the inside all the way through, and as I look over at Sangmo and Liv and three thousand Tibetans, I think: we’re all going to be OK. Really, this time, we’re all going to be OK.