Upcoming Shows

We've been named as a official selection in the Southern Circuit of Filmmakers Tour, March 17-24.

Shows are in Hapeville, GA 3/17, Madison, GA 3/20, Orangeburg, SC 3/22, Gainsville, GA 3/23, and Manteo, NC 3/24.
Learn more by going to the SouthArts blog.

View the theatrical trailer for A Gift for the Village

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Ashes and Names: July 27, from Jane again

I can't help but notice that this is our 108th blog post. Buddhist malas (prayer necklaces, like Catholic rosaries) have 108 beads. A very lucky number.

Today, our chivalrous, handsome, selfless guide for the extreme Upper Mustang trek, Narayan Bhatta, wrote me a very sweet e-mail in response to a request he made early on our last morning in Jomsom, when he told me that he had just learned he had a new son--born in the wee hours of July 23rd. He requested that I give his son one name--which will stay with him, and be joined by a Nepali name, once the priests decide which name is right--in about five months.

I wrote Narayan with my suggestion, and tonight, I got this response:
Dear Jane mom
Thank you so much for your kind mail, i feel so good mom, and glad to have a son name, thank you so much for lovely name, from now he's name is Emerson Bhatta.
This news marks one of the sweetest parts yet of our bridge now between America and Nepal. Emerson Bhatta, like my own son Emerson, is family.

My friend in Blacksburg, Alwyn Moss, has written about the importance of naming, and Narayan's sweet e-mail has got me thinking tonight about this idea, about names, and giving a name, and naming what you give.

If you do not give something a name, you may not see it.

If you never see it, you may not believe there is anything there to take care of.

If you have no obligations toward it, you have no need to give.

And, as the proverb from the poorest slums of Calcutta, India, teaches (quoted in Dominique LaPierre's great book, City of Joy), Everything not given is lost.

Jenna and I love that proverb. So does our friend Lucinda Roy.

Everything not given is lost.

Before I left for Nepal, I visited my student Morgan Harrington's mother, Gil. I wrote to Mrs. Harrington because I had two of Morgan's essays, in the original, with two of her drawings.

I had contacted detectives early during what turned out to be 101 days of searching for Morgan before we all learned that she had been murdered. Morgan was in my Creative Process class the semester before she died, and I loved her. She sat in the front row. All of my other students in that class remember her, bright, beautiful, witty, humble.

Just a week after Morgan was missing, a wonderful, gentle, patient special agent came to Blacksburg and interviewed me for two hours, talking about Morgan, her writing for my class, my impressions, every angle of intuition and possibility I could brainstorm. I wanted with all my heart to be helpful.

The agent allowed that if Morgan were alive, and in some kind of hostage situation, she might--possibly--somehow--be allowed to see who was trying to write to her, in which case, he advised, it might be good if I wrote to her, as her professor.

In those 101 days, I wrote sixty e-mails to Morgan. She had expressed a strong interest in coming to Nepal with me one day, and especially in seeing the Elements Temple at Mukhtinath which 8-year-old Ella Hoffman wrote about a few days ago. I promised her that I would take her.

After her class visited, Morgan also said that she needed to show my house and the paintings to her parents. Yes, I said. Please bring them to my home one day.

As it happens, Morgan is in our documentary, three times. First, when Jenna filmed a class at my home--each of my Creative Process classes comes to my home for dinner at the end of the semester, while I teach a lesson on Visual Yoga and Narrative Art--the class she happened to film was Morgan's. There is Morgan, sitting on my living room floor, beaming, as she takes in the large paintings all around her.

Secondly, we also use a still photograph of Tsampa when he was at Virginia Tech, after teaching my class for an afternoon, all of us standing before the chalkboard. In the photograph, a group shot, I am standing to Tsampa's immediate right. To his immediate left stands Morgan, looking especially beautiful.

I had not contacted the Harringtons during the 101 days of their ordeal, when Morgan was missing. I did not know them--only their daughter--though she had written intimately to me of her intense admiration and love for her mother and her father. I did not want to cause them any grain of additional pain, being a stranger, contacting them possibly at some wrong moment.

But before this trip to Nepal, I wrote to them. I introduced myself, and explained that I had some of Morgan's work, and that I wanted them to have it when the time was right. Before a hard trip to Nepal, with the uncertainties of our long trek, I wanted to be sure I contacted the Harringtons, because I had what belonged to them.

Gil Harrington wrote back to me immediately, with breathtaking graciousness, and invited me to her home--just days before I left on this trip.

I drove there, and I can not remember spending a more powerful few hours in my life.

For me, Morgan's professor, to be led upstairs to her room--to see the copy of the Amchi painting that I had signed for her, framed and opposite her bed--to see Morgan's closet, her walls, her own stunning paintings--to see the house that was her home--to sit with her mother--to be with Gil while she read the incredible, detailed dedications that Morgan wrote about both of her parents--to comprehend that Morgan had INSISTED that I keep these papers. "But Morgan, these are YOUR papers. Make me a copy. You have gotten A's on them, really strong A's. Your parents will want to see this work," I had said at the end of the semester. "No," she had said, "YOU keep these."

And although we met during the week of my departure, Gil and I felt so much kinship that we squeezed in Morgan's wish for her parents to come and see my home, and the paintings, before I left for Nepal. I didn't know I could love anyone quite in the way I love Gil, but I love Dan that much, too. What incredible human beings, BOTH Dan and Gil. We had the best evening together, a feast of companionship. No wonder Morgan wrote with such wisdom and compassion. No wonder she was so beautiful.

Gil and Dan gave me the extreme honor of bringing some of Morgan's ashes to the Himalayas.

I carried them in a beautiful packet which had Morgan's photograph on it, hidden among my traveler's cheques and identification cards. Often, I checked the packet, and looked at Morgan.

When our team reached the west of Nepal, I had to give her up.

And I found that I was terribly emotional, really resistant, to give up Morgan's ashes.

But I had carried them to give them, the way you give a name.

And as I have given two Emersons, I gave Morgan to two places. She is at Mukhtinath, the Elements Temple, at 14,000 feet, and when I delivered her ashes there, dozens of Tibetan nuns happened to be chanting on three sides inside the shrine, like a vibrating hive of otherworldly bees. I have been to Mukhtinath three times, but this was the first time nuns were there, singing prayers and smiling and nodding as our team came in--the only visitors--and smiling, as I wept, to give up part of Morgan.

The other part, I gave to Tsampa, after explaining Morgan's murder. He took the other part of her ashes to do an extremely special ceremony on Dhumpa Mountain, where the air is full of dakinis, sky-dancers, female wisdom-beings who can contact a consciousness after it has left its body, who can remove obstacles for that consciousness, and who can empower a happy and richly enabled rebirth. Tsampa's tradition and training are rare, and his rituals are old and strong. I was thrilled that he offered this gift to Morgan. This was the greatest honor I could have hoped for her ashes.

And so, like a name, they are given.

The third and final time Morgan Harrington appears in A Gift for the Village is her name. When what you have is a name, and you love that name, you give it as a dedication. At the end, our documentary is honored to carry and to give Morgan's beautiful name.

Everything not given is lost.

I also believe in the sweet corollary: Everything given goes on. Jane


Suzan said...

I cried as I read your entry about the new baby Emerson Bhatta and then the story of Morgan and taking her ashes to honor her memory. I am not usually a person given to visible emotional displays but today the tears flowed freely. Thank you. Suzan

Barbara said...

Oh My....There was not a dry eye in this house as everyone sat down and read your latest entry. How moving an experience this must have been/be for you.

skyler23150 said...

Like others, my eyes are filled w/ tears over your beautiful story and the ways in which you have honored this special young woman. I never knew Morgan. I don't know her family, Dan, Gil and Alex, but I think of them every day -- several times a day. There is a private group of us who gather daily. We think of Morgan. We mourn our loss, the world without who she could have been. We mourn for Dan and Gil and Alex. But we also celebrate. The Life She Was, the many gifts she has given to us all, in our own personal way.

I am certainly not an artist of the caliber of you and of Morgan, but I wanted to leave a token, a reminder to Morgan that I would not forget her, nor stop fighting to find who took her life and ensure they understand this beautiful life who is gone much took soon. I love rocks. I love painting on rocks. I painted a scene on a rock inspired by the Morgan I had come to know. Something inside me knew I "had" to paint Tibetan prayer flags on my little rock painting. I didn't know why. I didn't question why, I followed my heart. I am so glad I did. I now understand why it was important. Again, thank you so very much for sharing your art, your trip, your experiences with Morgan. I now live outside of Richmond, but I am coming to the premier of your beautiful film. May God's light always shine upon you and guide your life's path.

Andrea said...

My dear friend, you are an artist on canvas as well as with your words and thoughts, also your gardens and your cooking are works of art. Your every breath is filled with artistic expression.

I wept as I read your entry.

The beautiful sentiment of naming...an important lesson indeed. How amazing to think of Emerson Bhatta growing up in Nepal and sharing your Emer's name.

How incredibly touching your story of bringing Morgan with you and of her appearances in the film including her name in the dedication.

You are masterful in making your innermost feelings and intentions tangible for all of us...thank you for that. And thank you for honoring those you love in the most beautiful ways.