xi. Stefan’s Story
“You’re cooking rice!” Stefan said.
“I am,” replied Kate. “It goes with everything.”
“I haven’t had rice on Christmas since 1968.”
Stefan grew quiet while the others ate and chatted.
“Do you like the meal?” Ashaan asked Bertha.
“Oh, yes. Indeed,” replied Bertha. “I don’t know when I’ve eaten so well.”
“Any special reason you haven’t had rice on Christmas since?” Kate asked Stefan.
“Oh, no,” he replied. “Just circumstances. You see I was in Vietnam then, 1968.”
“What did you do?” asked Ashaan, for whom that war wasn’t part of his personal history, only something he vaguely recalled having read about a time or two.
“Special ops,” said Stefan. “I was one of the guys they sent to fix things that needed to be fixed. That year, they sent me to fix a target that was, so they said, at some little Buddhist temple out in the jungle. He was supposed to be this big key figure behind a lot of really bad things that supposedly were happening.”
“That sounds like something out of a movie,” the fashionable guest said.
“Oh, they can’t make movies out of this stuff,” said Stefan. “The screw-ups. Nobody would believe it. They screwed up this time. Big-time. Bad intel. This was the wrong target. The little Buddhist monk really was a little Buddhist monk. I mean, you could just feel it. This zen-like stuff–this quiet–it just seeped out from him. You couldn’t be in his presence without feeling it. Without feeling calm, somehow.”
“This was the guy you were supposed to take care of?” Sofia asked.
“To kill. Yes. In a matter of speaking,” replied Stefan. “I couldn’t do it. It was Christmas. We ate rice. I couldn’t do what I was sent there to do. Their intel was wrong anyway, I found out later, though I didn’t know it then. But I couldn’t do it. We ate rice together. We sat. It became quiet. It was Christmas, and in the jungle, in this little temple, we ate rice and sat in quiet.”
“That seems so far away,” said Ishaan. “How do things like that even happen? Is that even the same world that we live in? What’s the connection between that and now, here, eating rice?”
“Everything,” replied Stefan. “The connection is everything. That’s what I learned from that man. He was the most Christian man I’d ever met, though, of course, he wasn’t a Christian. He was a Buddhist monk, just filled with peace. Quiet. Consciousness. The little guy actually shone. Radiated. Bliss and happiness. Pure joy. I didn’t go back. I couldn’t do what I was sent to do, so rather than just say I couldn’t find him, which meant they’d just send somebody else, and then send me to take care of the next target, I just never went back.”
“You never went back?” Ishaan asked.
“Nope. I stayed with that monk. We traveled. We went from temple to temple. He knew if we stayed in one place, they’d send someone out to find him or to find me, so we traveled. Those were amazing years.”
“You must have learned so much,” said Ishaan.
“I did,” said Stefan. They ate silently for a while and the room settled into a deep feeling of peace.
“Like a movie,” said Ishaan, at last, speaking into the silence.
“I lived in that jungle for years, going from temple to temple, until finally Jimmy Carter offered amnesty to all the people like me, and I came back home. Only I discovered that I wasn’t me anymore and home wasn’t here, not in this place, but here,” he said, placing his hand on his heart. “Inside. Where I am is home. Who I am is here.”
“You were one of the changed,” said Bertha.
“I was,” said Stefan. “I was changed by those years.”
“Power to the people!” yelled Bertha, suddenly jumping up onto the couch.
“Woot!” yelled Stefan. “The power of peace!”