I woke at 4:30 am yesterday startled to see a text from a friend who said the State Department had ordered all citizens to return to the U.S immediately. For three weeks I had been peacefully settled in the day to day life of the monastery. Chanting, meditation, chores, breakfast and so on. My trip was cut short abruptly as I realized I needed to shift into high gear and get a ticket home.

Fortunately, the airlines waived the fee to reschedule, so I was able to get a ticket at no extra cost for that same evening. It was very strange disengaging myself so quickly from such a safe and secure surrounding. The monastery hadn’t accepted any new visitors during the time of my stay so we were all virus free. Dhammananda spoke to me after lunch. She said she was nervous for me, returning to the US, worried that I was safer there than I would be at home. She’s probably right, after all, there was no present risk. As my taxi pulled up five nuns scrambled towards me to bid me farewell. I was so touched it brought tears to my eyes. The sight of their kind, smiling faces was my last memory of the temple, as the taxi drove away.

It was kind of strange being in Thailand as things with the Coronavirus heated up in the US. I watched my friends back home as if watching a dream, sheltering in place, staying home bound, social distancing, self-quarantine–all news to me. I was far from the maddening crowd and that was kind of a blessing and a relief. I feel grateful to have had this chance to pause for a time.

Then a strange thing happened as we landed in Tokyo Narita airport. I looked around and saw masked faces everywhere. People shuffling toward the inspection line in unison. We all looked the same, just different. I was overjoyed to be traveling in a foreign country. It’s a beautiful thing to connect with people who speak another language, celebrate a different culture, a true recognition of life in all our humanity. There was no fear on the faces, just tired travelers, all moving on to the next destination. A feeling of joy surged through me, simple gratitude to be alive.

As I board the final flight home, I want to remember that feeling I had in Tokyo.  I want to keep the nuns’ smiling faces close to my heart. I don’t want to let fear overcome me.  I don’t want to forget to celebrate the beautiful things in life, which includes the whole expanse of our experiences, both the good and the bad, the difficult and the sublime. If we connect in our suffering, maybe there is healing for all of us. I don’t know, I just want to stay open and remember, this too shall pass. May we all stay healthy and take care of one another. Sadhu. Sadhu. Sadhu.