Monday, April 4, 2011

Where's the Temple?

A week ago, a gray, rainy afternoon the day before I left Bali, I impulsively asked my driver. Eka Merta Sedana, to take me to Tanah Lot. I had never been to this temple on the sea, only accessible at low tide, for it is known to be inundated with tourists who come to take photos of the sun setting dramatically behind the open-sided building. But I was curious and needed a lift. I was feeling sad because a Balinese friend is very ill, because the weather in Bali has been so unusually rainy (people blame global warming) that all flowers of the fruits and crops are being knocked off the plants, and because the situation in Japan is so sad and frightening.

What I found at Tanah Lot was not what I expected. The tide was coming in, and people from many places—Java, Japan, Australia, France, Bali, America—were wading out on the rocks to get a photo of the temple, still dramatic under gray skies. But the real drama was elsewhere. As the waves came in and people got splashed, they were shrieking with laughter and delight. It was a scene of joy, childlike play, and a momentary release of all the national differences and personal cares that usually bind us.

When I got back to the car, I was feeling so exhilarated that I babbled to Eka about what I had seen. I showed him the photos I had taken. "Where's the temple?" he asked in surprise.

But I had seen something more wonderful even than the temple: radical joy in hard times.

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