“You’re not a happy man,” the mystic had told me years ago. “I can tell by your face.”
At the time I was a stressed out social worker living in Oakland, California. When I looked in the mirror, thick, dark circles cut deep into the skin below my eyes. The rest of my face was lined and wrinkled.
“You won’t find peace and harmony here in the asphalt jungle of a big city,” he said.
“Excuse me.” I gave him a puzzled look.
“You need to find your EM.”
My gaze deepened.
“Finding it will solve your problems, not all of them but many.”
“What on earth is my EM?” I asked him, slightly embarrassed because I had no idea what he was talking about.
He shook his head as if amused, and looked deep into my eyes. “You will know when you find it.”
“Where do I go?”
“Across the sea.” He pointed toward the Pacific Ocean. “Go there. If your heart is in the right place my friend, eventually you will find it.”
In the coming years, I was to travel across the wide Pacific, journey through hot, sweltering jungles, dense tropical forests, and eventually end up on congested sidewalks below towering skyscrapers in very large Asian cities. As always, I was hoping and praying to turn the next corner and find the elusive EM, but I was no closer to finding it than when I first began my journey.
For over a year, I searched Japan. I roamed through Tokyo, Yokohama, and combed the grounds near the ancient Buddha at Kamakura. I climbed part of Mount Fuji then went south toward Osaka and Kyoto. I visited shrines, temples and castles, attended spring and summer festivals, searched through cultural relics like pottery and paintings, but found nothing. The illusory EM was nowhere in sight.
Weeks passed. I traveled to Taiwan, then Indonesia, then Cambodia. Five years later I arrived at Ko Phayam Island, Thailand, a scenic beach community located on the emerald waters of the Andaman Sea.
I was tired, frustrated, and deeply discouraged. No one’s wish is to fail, but I had failed miserably in my search to find EM.
Although disappointed, I never regretted the decision I had made to strike out on my own. Ko Phayam Island had become a place of refuge. Here I began a new life, taking on the identity of a Thailand beach bum.
Once I left my job as a critical needs social worker, chucking it all away for the warm sunny beaches of Thailand, I knew my life would change, for better or worse, I wasn’t certain. Here on the island I’ve managed to supplement a small pension with money earned from freelance writing. The abrupt change in lifestyle wasn’t as severe as if I’d pulled up stakes and left without having money enough to live on.
Over the years, time has passed as quickly as a vanishing sunset. I remember coming here not knowing what to expect. I had booked a room at Kao Kwai Hill Resort. I wanted the room for an indefinite period of time I told the owner, a middle-aged Thai woman with a warm and friendly smile. My bungalow was the third one up the hill overlooking Buffalo Bay.
I was energized by the thought of my first day on the island. Unpacking quickly, I left the bungalow and rented a motorbike a short time later. No cars are allowed on the island, so I throttled down back roads lined on both sides with dense tropical forests. Off in the distance were sweeping ocean vistas.
Still, in the midst of such scenic beauty, I felt discouraged. I was no closer to discovering EM than when I began searching for it years earlier. I’d almost given up hope of ever finding it. Maybe it was a mirage shimmering in the distance under waves of scorching sunlight. The closer you got to it, the farther it receded from view.
My search had reached the point of foolishness.
I headed northwest toward the beach. Changing into swimming trunks, I ran across a patch of white sand and plunged into the ocean. I swam out about twenty yards from shore when a Thai man and his wife swam up alongside of me. Niran and his wife Dao had come down from Bangkok for the weekend. He was an IT working at a Thai Development Corporation, she was an accountant working for the same company. It was difficult but also humorous shouting at them across the water. At times our voices shifted on the wind and carried out to sea, so we couldn’t hear everything clearly. We agreed however, to meet that evening for dinner and drinks at Heaven Beach Resort in the middle of Buffalo Bay.
At twilight, inside the beach-front restaurant, a few Germans and Scandinavians were eating and drinking near the bar. Heaven Beach, like the name, had a great laid back feel. People were dining and relaxing, enjoying each other’s company. Wan and her friendly Heaven Beach team catered to our needs.
Dao ordered baked fish, chicken cashew nuts, and heaping bowls of wild rice. I watched the fish simmer on a steel platter above a tiny fire glowing from a miniature propane tube. We shared everything, fish, chicken and rice. The dining reminded me of what it must feel like to dine at a Hawaiian luau.
We talked about business, politics, my writing publications, Niran’s IT workload, and Dao’s busy schedule. I blushed modestly when Dao said she envied my carefree lifestyle as a freelance writer. I really enjoyed their company. The camaraderie they showed a farang (foreigner) like me living here in their country was priceless.
In time, one of the Germans sang a karaoke song near the bar. When the German finished singing, Niran took the microphone and sang an ancient Thai love song Dao told me he had sung many times before at family restaurants in Bangkok. I could tell by the look in Dao’s eyes how close she was to her husband, and how much she loved him.
The evening passed quickly. We finished eating and took a walk along the beach. It was truly a magical moment. Cool air blew in from the sea. Suddenly, on the horizon a scarlet fire flashed before our eyes. It seemed to shimmer and dance into eternity as the sun slipped into the ocean and nightfall covered the land.
Dao and Niran were staying here at Heaven Beach Resort. I was staying further up the road. We said good night and I motored home. Next day I didn’t hear from them. When I asked Wan what had happened, she told me Dao’s mother had taken ill and the couple had to return unexpectedly to Bangkok, cutting their holiday short. Sometimes life just isn’t fair.
Next morning I went snorkeling. I had booked the excursion through Buffalo Bay Vacation Club. In the water, multi-colored tropical fish—small groups of nude-branches and cuttlefish—came up to greet me. I was pretty far out skimming along the reef when the ocean floor suddenly dropped off into a deep chasm. Through the glitter of ascending light, my eyes opened wide in a jaw-dropping moment. Just below me, thank God it was going in the opposite direction, was a huge bull shark. Its stiff dorsal fin and powerful tail powered it along a predatory course. I remembered to stay calm, not panic or trash about.
I froze to the spot and when I was convinced the shark was no longer a threat, I turned back toward shore, telling my guide what I’d seen.
He assured me what I had seen was a rare sighting. In broken English he told me, “Chalam not many come here, I tink.” The word Chalam is the Thai word for shark.
The alarming new adventure with the shark had frightened me. It also steeled my courage to go snorkeling again the next day. Thankfully, all I saw was a giant turtle, beds of coral, and tropical fish by the dozens swimming in circular patterns above the reef. That afternoon, I hiked up a jagged path for a mile in back of my bungalow and later that evening drove down to Buffalo Bay for a walk on the beach.
The people strolling by seemed silent and soulful attracted to moments of quiet reflection. The air was cool. Waves washed over the darkening shoulder of a beach visited by vast stretches of open water. The sea stretched for endless miles as if joined together by a parallel universe of sea and sky. As I stared toward the heavens, the night seemed to reflect a divine presence quartered in the darkness of celestial distance.
At the moment I had lost all hope of finding EM. Where it was had eluded me for years. Although life on the island was peaceful, I struggled with periods of loneliness and depression. I questioned the very foundations of my life. What was its meaning and purpose? Something was still missing in the silent depths of my soul, drifting in and out of my life in dark patches of ambiguity.
Days passed. Then months. On a cool evening in mid-November of 2016, I spotted a young couple walking along the beach. They were holding hands and she was staring into his eyes with the same loving gaze I had seen in Dao’s eyes years ago at Heaven Beach Resort.
Suddenly, as if shaken from sleep, my eyes opened wide in a sudden burst of insight. That night I remembered sitting inconspicuously at the table watching Dao and Niran. As their eyes met, I saw in them a kindness filled with love and unwavering devotion. It was as steadfast and enduring as the lives they were living. The lover’s gaze had become my epiphany.
It opened a door onto a world, where at last after a long, painful journey I was able to discover the meaning and significance of EM.
It didn’t matter where I had been, or where I had traveled in all those far-away places. At times, I felt lonely and reflective. Something in my life was missing because I was looking for EM in all the wrong places. EM was there all the time inside me, my Existential Moment. I came to realize our lives are really our own and we exist within them. My very existence was my own, and living comfortably in my own skin was all that mattered.
It was what the mystic had told me years ago. “You need to find your EM. It will solve your problems, not all of them but many.”
Now I’m doing my best to live the life I saw that evening in a couple’s endearing glance. It’s my life and it’s probably vastly different from the life you’re now living.
Maybe you’ll come this way one day, and we’ll meet, share a few drinks, laugh and sing karaoke songs on the beach as the sun goes down.
Maybe you’ll never come to the island. Chances are, you won’t, and I’ll never get the chance to meet you. Yet, for one brief moment, we can share a common message. It’s one I’ve found to be true over the years. When a moment of misfortune enters your life and you’re able to adapt and get through it, you soon discover life is what you make of it.
It’s always going to be that way. It’s never going to change. It’s what had been missing all those years I spent as a social worker, all those years I had spent searching to find my EM. It’s what was gnawing at me all my life, festering deep inside me, ready to be extracted. It took a mystic’s timely advice and my arrival here on the island years later to experience my existential moment.
As I ended my walk for the night, I drove back and climbed the hill to my bungalow. It was the third one up the hill, still my home after all these years. Inquisitive, I took a few moments to stare down onto the beach below. Someone had started a bonfire. The dark, silhouetted shapes of people flickered near the fire. Then music broke out and some of them began to dance. I heard a clanging bell from one of the fishing boats anchored off shore. The soft, glowing light from its windows spread patches of yellow light across the water. It was a time of peace and serenity.
At last, I opened the door to my bungalow and closed it behind me. In the dim light of the room I got ready for bed. The night was crisp and the breeze blowing in through the open window was cool and refreshing.
My life was full of endless promises yet to be fulfilled.
Original article appeared at: Investigation/ Political Article: Clintons Dump On Haiti published in Country Squire Magazine, UK, in 2-part series, Nov. 25 & 26, 2016.
Photo credit: Getty Images