Never underestimate the power of love. It is the one truth in the universe: love conquers all, and transcends time and space. No gun can do what love does, no master’s degree and expertise can match the small gestures of the heart with pure intent, no amount of money or possessions can equal even a drop of water to the endless ocean that is love. This is the truth that has been taught through the ages by the Buddha, Jesus, Mohammed, Laozi, Gandhi, Krishnamurti, the Dalai Lama, John Lennon, and many, many more. Today in the northern part of Sri Lanka, ravaged by war, I have shown people just what power there is with love.
Over the past few months since Indonesia, I have passed through the Philippines and Thailand offering the lessons I have learned since then, and several days ago, I was deployed to Sri Lanka to make use of my creative skills with video, writing, and photography. All of that, however, was only to set the stage for part of what my calling is in life.
Though I am here to let people’s voices be heard, it is only the beginning. To hear former child soldier’s and widows of war’s stories, that is the first step of the healing, when we let them share what they have seen and what lies ahead.
When I arrived at the northernmost part of Sri Lanka, I entered the center where women were given an opportunity to support their families by weaving baskets and other goods to sell. One of those Tamil women says she is not a war widow, for though she has not seen her husband for years since he was taken by the rebels, she believes in her heart that she will see him again some day, and that her four year-old son will meet his father for the first time.
As I first walked in, she was like the rest of the Tamil women there: shy but curious about this stranger who looked nothing like what she was expecting. They knew a visitor from the west was coming, and in their minds, they were anxious and nervous, expecting a large, pale-skinned man. Instead, they saw a Southeast Asian with the body and face of a fifteen year-old, whose eyes (according to one of the teachers) were kind yet seemed like they belonged to an elder. Smiling nervously, she greeted me, and after looking at her handiwork and the other girls, she volunteered to interview with me and my two Tamil and Sinhalese companions.
While we asked her about her life before the war, she talked about how at a very young age, she was fortunate to meet the love of her life and marry him, especially in a country and society where parents rush children to get married while they delay it to meet the perfect man or woman until they are too old and must marry or face the stigma of being single. It was the sad reality that shortly after their vows, she would say goodbye because he was taken away and forced to join the Tamil Tigers. As the fighting went on, she and her family were displaced and she was taken to a refugee camp until the fighting ceased.
The war may have been declared over since 2009, but the inner conflict still remains for those affected by the war, especially the children. Talking about what she learned and what was offered to her to help support her son and sisters, when we asked her what she wants for the future, she suddenly broke into tears and said “I want my husband.”
In that moment, my heart broke. To have the love of your life, your whole world not be there with you, that unknown about whether he is or isn’t alive, but hoping he will one day return–that is suffering, and nothing I learned in school, no amount of money, or secret martial art technique could ease her pain. In that moment, the love within me coursed through, and I remembered one special thing that I had learned from my guru: the shell mudra.
It is a special sacred hand gesture that is used to calm the heart and feel divine love, that I have used many times when alone, lonely, and abandoned. Your right hand grabs your left thumb and all but the right thumb wrap around it in a fist. Then your left ring and little fingers rest on the right knuckle. Your right thumb then connects to your left index and middle fingers. You hold this to your heart and adjust the positioning of the left thumb inside the right fist. This can be best described as what hugging yourself would feel like.
I showed her this, and said that I may not have much, but my heart breaks and feels her pain, so I must give her what I can. It will give her hope and calm her heart, and she will feel the love of her husband, her mother and father, her son, and everyone as she does this. As she copied my gesture, the translator and the woman’s teacher watched and copied. In the corner of my eye, I could see the translator was moved and fighting back tears, that a young stranger had compassion and made a small gesture to help this woman he had known for no longer than a few minutes.
The woman, my translator, and the teacher all learned the shell mudra, and we talked a bit, I told her about my life of wishing to travel, tell stories, and help others with what little I have. I then said goodbye to them and all the women, and my attempts at saying goodbye in Tamil roused them all to laughter: the first edition (and extremely outdated today) of The Rough Guide to Sri Lanka had many Tamil words that were utterly wrong and did not mean goodbye. “At least I’ve made an impression” I said to my translator, and walked away laughing in good spirit. Then I realized I left my notebook in the center, and walked back in to retrieve it, and on my way out, I noticed what this simple act of love did: the woman and her teacher were showing the others inside how to do the shell mudra.
It’s only my second day in Sri Lanka, and I know I have already done something wonderful for someone. Let’s see what the rest of my time here brings. If there is a movie and a song that defines this moment, it is Cloud Atlas: what are my actions but a drop of water in the ocean? What is the ocean but a multitude of drops? A small gesture now can change the world, even if I never witness it, and today I was blessed to see what love can do.
This is the power of love.