Life adventures, inspiration and insight; shared in articles, advice, personal chats and pictures.
This time of year, holiday shopping catalogues multiply like zucchini in summer. Of course you need this! Who wouldn’t love one of these? Meanwhile, TV ads coax us to indulge ourselves, to buy the thing we or our loved ones REALLY DESERVE. Bigger or newer or fancier is better. The material possessions promoted as essential for happy life seem to multiply and become more complicated and artificial as their prices rise.
One antidote to all this pressure to have more and newer and bigger might be found in a modest 2019 international film titled LUNANA: A YAK IN THE CLASSROOM—which was nominated for numerous awards, including an Oscar. My husband and I rented the DVD from Netflix. When we read the title, we wondered if we had fallen into yet another pit of cheesy humor. We hadn’t. The story was based on truth.
Ugyen Dorji, a young man who dreams of taking his singing onto the stage in Australia, is stuck teaching school for the government of his native Bhutan—a neighboring country to Nepal and India and the only country that prizes gross national happiness above all else. Dorji has not hidden his disgust with his teaching job, so for his final months of contracted service, he’s sent to THE most remote school in the world. The travel he must endure to arrive there includes several days hiking—all uphill, of course. His destination, the village of Lunana (a real place), perches high in the Himalayas.
As each day takes the young man and the yak herders who guide him farther and farther from the cell phone-enhanced life he had previously led, Dorji prepares himself to be disgusted. And, although the entire village walks out to greet him with gifts and song, he wallows in his distaste, insisting he must go back at the earliest opportunity. Their subsistence lifestyle seems unbearable. He assumes his psychological well-being would automatically improve if he were singing in Australia. However, the delight with which he is received by the adorable children (truthfully native to the area) finally convinces him to agree to complete his teaching contract, as he writes lessons on a wall with charcoal and uses his window coverings as paper for the students. He meets a beautiful young woman who sings happiness to her yaks and the entire valley from a high promontory and even gifts him with a precious aging yak to bring good luck and good cheer inside his classroom. (It also provides dung that’s dried and burned for heat.) Dorji struggles to learn the girl’s song and happily settles into the community with his guitar when the yak herders deliver a box of materials he requested from his friend In the city.
The head of the village asks him how can he want to leave a place where he’s contributing to the country, is valued by the villagers, loved by their children, and has a chance to touch the future by sharing education? His life has meaning. What can a microphone or more money offer that would be more fulfilling?
We ask ourselves the same question when we lose our emotional priorities as we shop. What or who do we hear when we put down the credit card and turn off the computer, the cell phone, and the TV? Could we sing to the world a self-confident song about the simple joy of living? A woman who has been a special fan of my writing called me after she read my novel THEY’RE IN YOUR MIND to tell me she thanked God I was in her life. I was humbled. She has been caring for her husband (who has dementia) and a ranch mostly by herself while also volunteering for the fire department auxiliary and cutting her firewood with a chain saw. She saved an elderly neighbor’s life last winter when she discovered the distant neighbor had fallen on the ice and was too injured to summon help. This special lady died of cancer today. To me, the meaning of life doesn’t lie in my bank account. I touched a heart. There is no greater happiness. If only I could sing to my valley without annoying anyone.