While on summer vacation one year during high school, I attended a Gaeltacht, an Irish speaking college, to do an intensive study on the Irish language for three weeks. I didn’t want to go there at all. It was summer vacation and I wanted to spend it away from the classroom, not in the classroom each day studying a difficult language. But soon after settling into life at the school, and making friends, I quickly began to enjoy the experience. Yes, classes were long, from morning to mid-afternoon five and a half days a week. But once classes were over we could have our fun, and the beaches were close by, as were tennis courts and other activities. And there were plenty of other students, both boys and girls to socialize with. Friendships were quickly formed, and there was a general ‘feel good’ vibe about the campus. We were all there for the same purpose, and were ‘suffering’ the same routine, so we had a common bond.
The best part was in the evening, when for two hours all the students and teachers would gather in the hall and participate in a ceile, a traditional Irish folk dance. A band played traditional dance music and we learned the steps. Very quickly I improved, and my enjoyment increased likewise. The boys had to dance with a girl whom we picked. The girls sat on benches around the perimeter of the hall, and the boys walked around to decide on who we wanted to dance with. Then we would ask the girl if she would dance. Sometimes she would say ‘yes’, other times ‘no’. As I grew more competent in the dancing, when I didn’t get a partner for a dance I was more disappointed at not being able to participate in that dance rather than being rejected by the girl.
The three weeks which, at the beginning seemed like a prison sentence, gradually turned into something I didn’t want to end. I had become very close with a lot of people, and soon I would not see them again, and maybe never again. I even became fond of those who I did not know but whom I saw regularly. The last day of classes came and went, and the night of the last ceile arrived. Even before the session began, some were already crying from the sadness of their departure the next day. As the night of dancing progressed the sadness became more apparent. Some of the students who had formed a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship, and who had been dancing with such joy on the nights up to this, could hardly get themselves out onto the floor for one dance. They were wrapped in each other’s arms, their faces heavy with sadness. They knew it would not be long before they had to say goodbye. No matter how much they loved each other, the time for parting would for sure come. And the next day was that day.
Parents were instructed to come pick up their children after 12 noon. Between 9am and 12 noon was the time for the students to bid their farewells to each other. We gathered in the large courtyard of the campus and had one final laugh with our new found friends. As was tradition, most had a notebook that was passed to people you bonded with and asked them to write something in it. It was wonderful. Pages and pages were filled with messages, drawings, funny comments, goodbyes, along with the name of the person and date. It was like the last meal of the condemned prisoner.
As the morning drew on, some cried hysterically. Sadness crept over me, too. Finally I got the courage to approach a girl I had liked and asked her to write something. Her name was Niamh, and she wrote, “Smile and whole world smiles with you, cry and you cry alone.” Then she posed for a picture and gave a warm smile. I smiled greatly delighted to have a few words from her, but desperately sad inside to know I would not see her again. It felt like one big family there among a few hundred students.
A little later as I walked out the school gates for the final time, when no one was around, not being able to hold it in any longer, tears poured from my eyes in a gush of sorrow. The pain of loss was immense and hard to bear. Why was I suffering so much? The loneliness was overpowering. My dad arrived to pick me up and drive me home. It was good to see him, but I found it hard to talk, but I knew he understood why. He kept smiling anyway, because he knew that my sadness meant that I had a great time. It was over like a dream, as if it had never happened. I had met strangers, bonded, and departed from them as friends, but unlikely to see any of them again.
I like to think that these three weeks are a microcosm of life. In life we meet people we never knew before, form relationships, and eventually at the time of death we part. Life can be wonderful. We meet people, form relationships and have great times.
All such things are to be appreciated for there is no guarantee of good fortune. When good fortune comes, it needs to be shown gratitude, for the end is always drawing closer. We are advised to try to appreciate every single thing that we have in our day, and look on nothing as a nuisance as difficult as that might be at times. We can’t tell when it will be over. Things are better when we have a happy demeanor and we smile. Like an echo it comes back on the faces of others around us. Recently while out walking and thinking about those times at the school, I realized I had been smiling. I realized it when several people who passed me beamed warm smiles in my direction. Niamh was right, when we smile the world seems to smile with us.
Frank Costelloe, USA
Source: The Buddhist Village Times #32 | 2013, Smile and the Whole World Smiles With You
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