Word by Word
I was resting in my room at the monastery one afternoon when I heard a knock at the door. Upon opening it, I was pleasantly surprised to see one of the Vietnamese monks I had come to know fairly well standing in the hallway and holding a small paperback. As he always did when our paths crossed, he greeted me with a bashful, yet warm smile and “Hello, Uncle.” As I invited him in, he humbly asked if I would help him with his English. I was happy to oblige of course.
Having removed his sandals before entering, he walked barefoot across the room and took a crosslegged seat on the unforgiving tile floor before beginning to meticulously read from the book he had brought along: Life of Pi. Seated comfortably on the edge of one of the guest beds, I followed his progress from over his left shoulder. And whenever he came to a letter combination that caused him to pause, he would look to me for clarification: “Uncle?”
If I had to give a reason as to why the memory of our time together that day has continued to hold such a warm place in my heart all these years, I would say it was the tenderness and vulnerability he exhibited as he pointed his way, word by word, across and ever so gradually down the page. Because, as I knew him, he was someone who preferred to do things on his own and in his own way—unaccustomed to reaching out for help, Therefore, I’m honored that he trusted me enough to knock on my door that afternoon and ask for mine. And for that, I will always remember him fondly. “Hello, Uncle,” I hear him say.