A Lesson from an Old Poet from Burma

Back in 2000 and 2001, my husband and I took an extended adventure around the world. In a little over 12 months, we visited 38 countries, had countless memorable experiences, and made lots of new friends. Out of all of the countries, the one that was the most memorable was Burma – also called Myanmar. And, I choose the word memorable very specifically, because Burma is an extremely challenging place to travel. It’s not where you go to have a relaxing resort vacation with fruity umbrella drinks and lavish buffets. It’s where you go to experience a culture completely different from anything you’ve ever experienced before. In fact, I nearly died in Burma from carbon monoxide poisoning while traveling from Mandalay to Rangoon. I would only recommend it to a seasoned traveler.

Burma is like no other place on earth. Very detached from Western influences, this South-Asian country holds a unique blend of influences and some of the most amazing sites in the world. Burma’s regime is also extremely oppressive. Citizens do not have free speech. Fair elections don’t exist. And, labor camps are commonplace. In a nutshell, there are serious repercussions to speaking up against the government so very, very few do.

That being said, we met some incredible people while traveling throughout the country. We had a wonderful tour guide, met friendly monks at Buddhist Temples who were interested in what we were doing, and found the everyday people to be some of the kindest anywhere in the world.

We even met an old man who proclaimed that he was a poet. He showed us his book of poems all carefully hand-written in English. And, he told us about his life. After our conversation, he insisted that my husband take his book of poems. Of course, we felt that he should keep his prized possession, but he insisted – pushing the leather notebook into Randy’s hands. Randy gave him our address and promised that we would keep his poems safe.

Randy has kept to his promise. He still has the book and looks at it from time to time. Since a decade has passed since our visit to Burma, I figured that the old poet may have passed away.

However, today I opened my mailbox and saw an unusual hand-written letter that looked like it was from overseas. I squinted in the Arizona sun while standing in my driveway and saw that the stamp was from Burma. Hunh? I quickly brought it in and showed it to Randy. He opened it, and lo and behold, it was a poem and a letter from the old man poet.  He had remembered us and apparently wanted to add a new poem to the collection that we hold.

What’s the message of this story? Well, I guess it’s important to remember that you may have a lasting impact on someone even if your relationship is brief. You can’t dismiss any person or conversation with the thought that they were not in your life long enough to matter. The old man poet was still in our thoughts, and apparently, we were in his, too. It makes me think about others in my life from years ago, and hopeful that relationships, even those that were fleeting, were meaningful in some capacity. Today, I feel that the world is a bit smaller and a little nicer thanks to the old man poet from Burma.

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