...on the Road to Mandalay.
There we were sitting late in the day discussing Kipling and Death Railway. Tin started to talk about Kipling at a very high level of knowledge. It turns out that he had studied a great deal of English literature while attending university in Myanmar. We got into a discussion about whether Kipling wrote the poem, On the Way to Mandalay, at the Great Pagoda.
There is a great debate among some literary scholars about where he wrote the poem. Aesthetically and artistically, I want to assume that he wrote it while sitting at the pagoda as some legends claim. When I read the poem, my mind sees him sitting there in 1890 composing...
I do not recall whether it mattered to Tin whether Kipling wrote the poem at the Great Pagoda or not. He was more interested in the fact that Kipling did not know much about Burmese geography. Kipling thought that he could go up the Thanlwin River from Mawlamyine to Mandalay. It had to be the Irrawaddy River if he was on his road to Mandalay. I mentioned to Tin in passing what Picasso said about art being "a lie that tells the truth."
Our discussion then morphed into my talking about Mrs. Davis, my homeroom and English teacher at Mt. Lebanon High School over a half century ago. Back then in the mid-20th century, we had to memorize several hundred lines of poetry each year while attending high school. I hated that assignment. Each week, students would come early before school started or after school let out to recite whatever lines we picked that week. Believe me; it was pure drudgery.
Even though I hated it that time, I am delighted that we had to do it. In the past half century, I can still remember many lines learned many years ago. I would pick poems or lines from short stories from the textbook.
However, we could use other sources, which I did. One of them was from my baby book. Will Allen Dromgoole wrote The Bridge Builder, which was used in my baby book that my mother got for me when I was born in 1943. Even at 71, I can still quote most of it.
I loved that poem as a small child and memorized it for Mrs. Davis in my senior year in high school. I told Tin about how we think that we know something and years later realize that we missed much of the impact of the message. I got the message of helping others when I was a youngster, but in the last couple of years, the impact of that the poem's message has truly affected me emotionally.
I shared with Tin my understanding of that poem far more intensely than I did for almost my entire life. I told him about Jack and Owen and their meaning to me in light of that poem.
Tin questioned me about the issue of bridge building, because it seemed to have affected me greatly. I told him about dancing with death a couple of times a half dozen years ago and knowing that I am not immortal. Again, we all know that at a cognitive level, but we do not understand it at an emotional or gut level until the time that we are moving more closely to the end of our life. Unless you have danced with death, you cannot appreciate that truth. I did not understand that even a decade ago.
Tin still pushed me further to explain my closeness to that poem. He asked about other bridges that I have built for others excluding Jack and Owen. I have and will continue to help my adult children and older granddaughter. Nonetheless, building bridges goes even beyond my biological family. I try to build bridges for my college students. I got through school and do not want them to slip and fall needlessly due to some unforeseen problem facing them.
Then I started to think about where else I have attempted to build a bridge. I talked about another guide that we had at Inle Lake miles north of Yangon. Her name was Moh Moh; she too was excellent. She took us to a preschool where two of her children attended. Then we went to her home where her oldest daughter, Ti Ti, was. Ti Ti was 9-years old and home from school due to a holiday.
Ti Ti was fluent in English and wanted to talk with us. I asked her whether she knew how to play Tic Tac Toe. Since she did not, I taught her, and we played it for a couple minutes. Ti Ti then wanted to play her game, which is a simplified version of Scrabble. She got a piece of paper and wrote down a word, and I added a word to her word and so on. On the margin of the paper, she kept score. After an hour of playing her game, she added up the score, and she beat me. She was delighted. She left that hour feeling good about herself. She could beat someone who was even older than her grandfather.
I told Ti Ti before we left her home that we will write regularly to each other. I emailed her the picture that I took of her. She responded that she will always remember me.
What will she remember? I do not know, but I hope that she will remember that some person from another country halfway around the world saw value in her as a person. Ti Ti was smart, loved to laugh, and was fun to be around. I assure you that I will remember her.
Ti Ti had a bridge built for her. However, I told Tin that while he and I were together for over and he was our guide in his area of Myanmar that he watched what pictures I took. It interested me to have a local observe what some foreigner wanted to photograph of that person's country.
Sure, I took photos of pagodas, statues of Buddhas, and markets. However, a large number of photos were taken of kids at various ages. I would take their picture and then show it to them. They would laugh and smile. Nevertheless, we will never see each other again. What did that finite moment of 15-seconds do for that child in a positive way? It did not cure the problems of the world or even address any of theirs, but it did tell that child that someone was interested in them. Some stranger saw value in them and wanted a picture of them to remember.
That may seem as something very unimportant at first glance. However, the truth that some stranger saw them as valuable is critically important. I hope that message will be stored and used as that child begins his or her journey in life. All kids will be exposed to far less positive reflections of them from family, friends, and/or society. However, stored back there in their little minds is the feeling that some person saw worth and importance in them. I did not build vast spans of a bridge for them. Nonetheless, I hope that they will all remember that they are valuable people in this world.
Those photos are very small bridges. I would rather build small bridges or have small bridges built for me than not to care to have bridges built.
We should all be bridge builders even though we might never see the child for whom we are building ever again. They will remember in the deep recesses of their minds that they are important...
Visit the Burma Independence page to read more about this topic.
Visit the Dancing with Death page to read more about this topic.