Since the resent death of my mother I have received many condolences from old friends and family members that, despite differences in opinion, still show genuine concern and love for me. Sitting in the memorial service and singing the old hymns, that my mother loved so much, brought back the memories of those simpler days when religion and spirituality were one and the same. Perhaps the most meaningful message of sympathy however came in the form of an e-mail from one of the older children at Wat Opot, who lost both of his parents to AIDS several years ago. The letter is too personal to share here but in it he expresses how he felt when his mother died and the hopelessness that came over him when he realized that he would never be able to give or receive a hug from her again. He than goes on to say that Wat Opot has now become his mother and that it is his source of warmth and comfort on lonely days… and he extended that warmth now to me from all of the children at Wat Opot. At a time when I am searching for direction in my own life, his words are especially meaningful, however it was the words he signed off with that brought tears to my eyes, for it shows the depth from which his words came. Those words were simply, “Life is like this.”
No one should have to understand this Truth at such an early age and yet there are so many children that do, simply because life has not given them the same benefits that most of the rest of the world enjoys. Wat Opot is a special place and I am so very grateful that I have it to return too. It has become like a Mother to many people. There is no formula that can recreate a Wat Opot; it is what we have all gone through together that has made it what it is. The realization and acceptance of the fact that life is both good and bad, is something that took me years to understand… and it was the children of Wat Opot who have taught me this Truth.
Many of the children in the community are orphans and others have been abused and neglected. Those who are HIV Positive have had to endure rejection, teasing, and at times threatening remarks from people outside of our community. There is no reason for Wat Opot to be a happy place… yet it is, and I believe the reason for that is because they have learned to accept things as they are and then go on with life. There is little discrimination between the HIV positive children and those who are negative. They live and play together and have learned to appreciate many different customs and practices because of the number of international volunteers and visitors that pass through our gates. They are comfortable worshiping in both temples and churches and can sing praises to Buddha and Jesus with equal enthusiasm and often even in the same service. They share what ever is given without complaint even when there is not sufficient to go around. They are in many ways unique and I am happy to have been a part of the Wat Opot development.
As I sit here at home anticipating my return trip to Cambodia, I am bombarded with pictures and stories of a world going crazy. Nuclear reactors out of control, war and the invasion of Libya, unemployment, foreclosing on homes, cancer, high medical cost, and the list goes on and on. People are afraid of each other, suspicious and judgmental of the government and of anyone or anything having to do with Islam or with ideas that do not go along with what they have been taught. For many the future seems hopeless and while many churches preach Salvation through Jesus in the hereafter there is little instruction on how to live life in the here and now. I long for the time when I can return to the simplicity of Wat Opot where hugging or being hugged by a child may be the only accomplishment of the day and nothing more is required or expected, because at Wat Opot… Life is like this.
Wayne Dale Matthysse