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Monday, October 10, 2011


The quiet desperation in his eyes paralyzes my tongue. Lay Moo just spoke the clearest English I have ever heard from him, yet I offer him a perplexed look, as though I am unable to comprehend. He sits cross-legged with sudden vigilance, perched at the foot of the green cotton covered mattress, his long black hair clinging to his forehead. The heart monitor, with its green lines jumping above us, beeps with increasing rapidity. My cell phone sits idly on the bed next to him.

“Call 911,” he tells me.
My face falls and I offer him an anguished look, “No, we can’t.”
Ya tha law gay su duh keh ee—I want to go home now.”
Na oh hsoo taw gay leeahh?—Are you feeling better already?”
The piercing phone call seemed to rehabilitate him from his previous state of lethargy to alarm, his symptoms apparently deriving from uncertainty.
Pa ga bah oh koh luh ga thee tha ra—We have to wait for the doctor.”

Theologians and philosophers have debated for centuries whether something is good because it is loved by God or is loved by God because it is good. In my journeys through doubt, the imagined absence of a loving God emptied my life of goodness and left me falling through to despair. Questioning the existence of God was questioning the value of myself.
Questions are the lifeblood of religious thought, and yet left unchecked lead to paralysis, the inability to love or be loved. I found myself on this intellectual religious obsession with truth and certainty: something I could articulate and know I was in the right. Yet on this mission, brain was devouring body. G. K. Chesterton writes: “Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction; where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth… For the old humility made a man doubtful of his efforts, which might make him work harder. But the new humility makes a man doubtful about his aims, which will make him stop working altogether.”
It is good to struggle with faith, because God loves us in the disarray of our lives, yet the struggle itself is not the truth. Without knowing love we lose touch with our inherent goodness, our divine agency remains unawakened. Even in the depths of despair, where everything good no longer brings delight, there is a quiet certainty, inexpressible in words, which emerges of its own volition. Chesterton writes: “It is the happy man who does the useless things; the sick man is not strong enough to be idle.”

I call Baw Baw, in an attempt to understand what is happening at the apartment complex. She affirms my understanding of the situation and the few alarming words I was able to pick out from the initial phone call.

“Are you see Lay Moo? You need to see him,” she tells me before hanging up the phone, each of us returning to our respective confusion.

Wonderful Mo te ma nu leh?—What did Baw Baw say?” he asks with haste.
I repeat her words first in English then piecing together any Karen fragments of meaning I can muster. He gazes back at me in defense.

Ta blaw ta kaw, ya hso ga mo dee nay. Ywa ta eh pwa bah, ywa ta oh bah, bah hsa ta may bah. Ywa oh, eh pwa—Sometimes I think like that: there is no God, he doesn’t love us, but that is not true, God is and loves us,”

I am flushed with memories of depression, the immanent realization that I cannot trust my own mind, that I cannot trust myself, but must defer to such an impossible God. Yet how these words would bring red to my face if I were speaking them in my native tongue.  I profess a faith I cannot articulate.

I drape my long gaw la wah arms around his small frame. My limbs could form a double layer canopy around him. He remains unmoving beneath my embrace. I return to my stool beside his bed, and flip through my Karen dictionary to the word for pray: bah tu ga pah.

Na tha law bah tu ga paahh—Do you want to pray?
Bah tu ga pah thay—We can.”

In a sudden burst of naiveté, prayer pours from my mouth and I remain bowed until the end of his silence. We sit in the Emergency Room waiting for something to happen, someone to connect his IV, escort him for another X-Ray, release us back into the world, something to break the stillness. The green line slows its dance to a moderate tempo.
A vague smile comes across his face and he tells me how he will live in his crumpling world. Only three months in this new country and already he is called upon to re-imagine his existence. He speaks himself into confidence, plotting his new strategy, inviting me to journey with him.

Later in the evening, I listen as Lay Moo plays the guitar and Hei Nay Htoo sings harmony, swaying with familiarity. A six-pack of Guinness sits mostly exhausted on the dirty beige carpet. Hei Nay Htoo and I will sleep here at Lay Moo’s apartment tonight.
I lounge on the floor with a sofa cushion behind my neck, waiting for sleep to clear the chaos of the day. Time passes slowly and rest comes with the feeling of never losing consciousness. I wake up around midnight to find the living room empty and open the front door of the apartment to see four figures squatting in conversation by the stairs. Baw Baw calls something to me from the huddle and all of them laugh. I rub my eyes, and mutter something about waking up and not seeing anyone, close the door, and return to my pallet on the floor.
I am jolted awake by the entrance of all four and the surprising invitation from Baw Baw, “Let’s go home.” I prepare to leave the apartment as they continue to talk in Karen.
“Lay Moo is scary somebody come in the house, kill him,” Baw Baw says with a laugh. I roll my eyes at the absurdity of his fear, completely disconnected from the reality of the day.
Bah hsa pwa tha uh may he nu, ya hkay ta oh bah, te ga htah—But if a bad person comes in, I don’t have my machete, only a guitar,” I reply, picking up the guitar and making a smashing motion with it. I lie down on the floor again and prepare for a restless night of fighting off demons.

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