Gom’s Ceremony

Today is Tuesday, the 17th. After work I ride my bike back to my guesthouse with some urgency because I want to have time to work out and eat before my Lao lessons starts. I get to the front and I see some women dressed up. Then, I see Ing, who hasn’t been there this early for a while and immediately I knew something was different because she was also dressed up. After I walk up with a very confused look on my face, without missing a beat, she tells me that they are having a ceremony for Gom at the guesthouse and 12 monks are supposed to come and conduct the ceremony. I tell her that I’ll go get changed and get something nicer on. She says I don’t have to and then mentions that I can take a shower as well. I think that was a jab at either me being smelly or sweaty from my bike ride, but probably a little bit of both. I go outside call Pavath and tell him to get back quickly, then I race upstairs and call my Lao teacher to tell her we’re canceling the lesson, and finally I hop in the shower. I put on a nice shirt and slacks and my nice long black socks.

Back downstairs I sit down at the front reception area and talk with one of the young women who helps out around the guesthouse and Ing’s paper shop. I ask if she’s seen Pavath yet and she tells me no, but that I should go in the other room because the ceremony has already started. She gives me a really beautiful sash made of silk to wear around my shoulder. I copy her and wrap it from my left shoulder and tie it at my right hip. She laughs at me and tells me that the men don’t wrap it around, but just let it hand on their shoulder. I have everything set and I don’t look like a woman, so I run over to the next room and I see a bunch of decorations in the middle of the room. There are big mounds of flowers in the front middle and behind those flowers are the head monks. To the left and right of them are the rest of the monks, all facing the flowers and all the other people watching the ceremony. On the very left side of the monks is a line of novices, sitting in a line that goes down the left side of the area. Then, in the audience, up front is Ing and a the rest of the crowd is behind her. There’s probably only about 30 people here and a total of 11 monks. I quietly come in and sit down in the back, trying not to disturb anything. The woman in front of me tells me that the men have to sit in front of the women, closer to the monks. Now I’m sitting one row back from Ing and all the way to the left from where she is in the front and middle. I forget how to sit politely because there’s a million things to think about right now, so I sit indian style. Right away, the same woman, who told me to sit up front, tells me to swing my legs around my body. So, imagine everything is the same except one of the legs, from the knee down, is off to the side, going down the right or left side of the body, depending on which side you want to lean on. Well there goes all my support I get from sitting Indian style. I’ve sat like this at Bossi ceremonies before but it was different then because I didn’t feel bad about moving around when my legs hurt. This is different because it’s much more serious being for Gom and I’m also in the front. I’m settled in now and my legs don’t hurt… yet. I look to my right to see what Ing is doing so I can copy her, as I have no one else to look at and copy because they’re all behind me and probably watching me to make sure I don’t do anything stupid.

All Ing is doing is sitting there with her hands in the praying position, both palms pressed together, right underneath her chin. I do the same and just sit there and try to absorb everything. As we’re all sitting there the monks are all chanting. The head monk has a microphone and the rest are chanting along with him. I’m pretty sure it’s all in the Pali language because the words I’m picking up on are from my study of Buddhism and nothing while learning Lao. I also know that some of the blessings in the famous Lao Bossi ceremony are in Pali. The Pali and Sandskrit languages are ancient languages that were used to record some of the first Buddhist documents. They’re also the languages that some of the Lao writing system is derived from. After some time a man comes and joins me at the front. I’m glad because now I’m not the only one up at the front of my half of the room and I have someone else to reference other than Ing. The commotion of him coming also gives me a chance to switch my legs to the other side and not feel like I’m disturbing everything or offending anyone’s mother.

Some more time goes by, I have no idea how much time that actually was, but my legs are telling me it’s beyond measurement. Not only are my legs hurting, but I worked out yesterday and made the sides of my torso sore, which when both of your hands are occupied, it’s either the legs or the sides of my core that has to keep myself up. I try to focus on one part of the pattern in the carpet to keep myself sane. I peak over to my left and can see Pavath out of the corner of my eye. I’m to the point of pain now that I can’t conecentrate on the ground anymore and I’m starting to think of exit plans out of here. My back, legs, and sides are all equally worn out and now I’m in the stage of wearing one of them down to the point of making it hurt for the next few days. Then, I snap out of it and realize this is way more important than my rigid joints. I can hurt the next day for Gom. Then Ing stands up with a basket and starts throwing small candies at people on the other side. She comes over to us and now with much practice at seeing my confused face, just tells me that it’s for good luck. It’s a nice change of pace because it gets me to giggle and most of all shift my weight and sit in a less proper way for a second while everyone is distracted. A small bill falls next to me and I feel strange taking the money so I turn around and throw it at Pavath to spread the good luck and get rid of it being around me. I probably just broke a big rule by doing that also, but that same woman didn’t bark at me, so maybe it was okay. Then Ing hits me square in the head with a hand full and I can feel some went down the back of my collar. I reach down and sure enough it’s another small bill. Okay, I keep this one and the candy that’s closest to me.  Another person is walking around the room with a small branch, dipping it into a bowl of water, and then spritzing it on everyone.

After that both women sit back down and the monks go right back to the same chanting. I pick up on a few words that have to do with reincarnation. I can hear them repeating Arahat and I think the Lao word for birth, so I’m guessing they’re praying that he’s reborn in a better form and possibly an Arahat, which is like a sacred person who is still living on this Earth. I guess part of it is in Lao now, or it’s the same and they were possibly using all words I’ve never heard before, which is entirely possible in a formal ceremony like this. I’m doing my best to understand the situation and enjoy and soak everything in, but now my legs are sending very loud and insulting messages to my brain.

Then, Ing gets my attention and tells me to take a flower pot with a few very tall branches coming out. Instead of their being leaves on the branches there are many small bills wrapped in plastic. At the base of the pot are fruit drinks and other various snack foods. I hand one over to Pavath and take on myself. She then tells us to move up to the front row so all of us are in one connected line in front of the monks. The monks chant again, but now everyone in the line picks up the pot and holds it at about the same height we were holding our hands when we were listening to the monks chant. I pick it up and hold it there and then the chanting starts again. It’s actually quite nice to sit like this because now my arms are burning a bit and it’s taking some of the attention of the pain in the rest of my body. The only issue is that this chanting is going on much longer than I had hoped. My body was about at the end of it’s ability to sit in this damn position and now they hand me a heavy pot to hold while staying in the same position. This time though I can’t adjust myself or put the pot down. I keep getting thoughts of “just put it down, it’s okay!” “Do you want a sore back all day at work tomorrow?”, but I push them aside and instead fill my head with “there’s no way in hell I’m going to be the first one to put this pot down”. Now my stubbornness is coming out and I’ve now set my mind to wait for my arms to fall off before I surrender and put the pot down, either to rest my arms or switch my legs around. The chanting keeps going and going… There are even parts where the rest of the monks stop and only one is going and I think that’s the sign for nearing the end, but then the monks all start up again. They’re all probably thinking the same thing I’m thinking. “how the hell do we get out of this? I don’t know let’s just stop chanting”. My whole body starts to get to a shaky stage and then, everything ends and we all put our pots down. I still make sure I’m not the first one to put my pot down, I don’t care if we’re all done, I set a promise to myself and my arms are still quite well attached.

We place the pots in front of the monks at the front of the room and then some women pass around envelops to all of them. I guess those envelops had more money in them. I suppose that all goes to renovations for the monastery, but I want to ask more about what happens with that. It probably goes into their casual Fridays when they wear tank tops and drink beer while they grill hamburgers. After the distribution everyone sits back down and MORE CHANTING starts. I’m about ready to throw a tantrum here. At least I was able to get up when I moved that damn pot, but I know it’s going to hurt much faster than before. Back in the torture position, I put my hands back up in prayer and try to listen as well as I can to the words being said. Now my arms are tired, my brain is tired, and the entire lower part of my body. Even though my arms are in prayer position, they start to shake a little bit. I’m not sure if they’re tired, crying, or trying to evacuate my body. I’m able to switch my legs again now, so I take full advantage and am doing it so often now I probably look more like a hired break-dancer then someone participating in the ceremony. This goes on for probably another 15 minutes and then the chanting stops again. People start to get up and I’m pretty sure that everything has finished now. I still haven’t gotten up because my legs have just given up at this point. I didn’t throw the tantrum, so they did and now aren’t listening to me anymore. I sit and wait for the monks to clear out. Then I look over at Ing and she tells us to wait around to eat dinner with them.

Finally I get up and see Caroline also came. I’m glad she came and showed support, but it feels awkward because I know she left Sakura with her and Ing being on pretty bad terms. At the same time I’m also proud of Caroline for being bigger than that and coming to support Gom. As much as Ing has done to put this whole thing on, it is for Gom. I walk to the front lobby and Caroline says she’s going to leave. Then Pavath and I go back and sit in the same room as someone brings us a circular table thing and two bowls of soup. I tell Pavath I don’t care what he thinks about how my legs are placed and I sat in the indian style or pretzel or whatever is culturally sensitive to say here. I think both those names aren’t as accurate as “the less torturous position”. The food is some small sweet things and a bowl of curry noodle soup. It’s amazing and one of the Lao guys sitting with us brings Pavath and I a second bowl each. After that I tap out and tell Ing I’m going to bed and than her for putting everything on and inviting me to join.

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