“Hold a true friend with both hands.” ~Kanuri proverb
In Mongolia, the country I have lived in for 4 years (including 3 years as a Peace Corps Volunteer), special things are done with two hands. People give gifts with two hands, receive gifts with two hands, greet each other with two hands and welcome each other with tea held in two hands. These are sacred events, not casual activities you can brush off. The small things are sacred just like the big things are. When confronting life or death, the birth of a child or the death of a loved one, the event is also experienced fully by the community, not avoided or fearfully hidden away.
In my three years as a Volunteer here I took part in many ceremonies big and small: funerals, birthdays, greetings, visits, anniversaries, festivals and weddings – including my own wedding. One thing that always fascinated me and gave me enormous appreciation for Mongolian culture was how gifts are given. In America I’m used to receiving gifts. If it’s your birthday you get presents, you get cards, you get “Happy Birthday!” all day long. If it’s your wedding you create a registry, or several, so people know exactly what presents you want and then bring them to you on your special day.
In Mongolia, you give presents. At your wedding, you give presents. If someone in your family dies, you give presents to the people who come to the funeral. At a house-warming party you give presents to the people that visit. As a sign of appreciation, celebration, and love for the people who support and love you, you give with two hands.
Every day our lives are full of sacred moments. Even the food we eat required months and years of very hard work, and likely traveled for thousands of miles before it got to us. It required thousands of people to plant, grow, harvest, produce, ship, package, cart, scan, deliver, present and prepare it before you can bite into it. And that’s just food. Every day each of us engages in sacred moments that deserve our full attention, a two-handed approach to life. If it’s going too fast, it’s okay to slow yourself down. Don’t just hand your bills between two fingers while looking the other way. Don’t ignore those who make your happy, healthy life possible. Don’t brush these things off as small things. All of them matter, just like every single breath we breathe matters. They are what make life possible. They are what make life worth living.
Photo: Travis’s grandmother and niece in Mongolia
Main photo by Shutterstock.