Sunday, July 10, 2011


Impermanence. Nothing is guaranteed a tomorrow, and no one has an infinite future. We all pass on; to the afterlife, to ash, to dust. Death is inescapable, no matter the miles you travel. It never factored into my internship planning, but then, neither did anyone as unforgettably quirky and wonderful as her.

With an energetic smile and zeal that belied her age, she arrived in the ENF office like a whirlwind. A small, gracefully aged Malaysian woman who spoke British English, she moved slowly and resembled an empress on holiday. She wore nice, simple clothing in an elegant manner and every outfit accentuated her tan skin and black hair. Though she strolled with an intricately carved cane at times, she brightened every room at the speed of light. She came to check on her goddaughter, her dear friends, and the cause that meant so much to her. Elephant Nature Foundation, and all that it represents, was in her heart, in her body, in her soul. That deep affection drove her to action if something was found in disarray, and she knew how to get things done.

Her recent mission became to fix the gift shop and merchandise system. Things with both had lapsed into an unproductive state, with a lackluster inventory system, dull displays, and an inattentive staff. Each morning she arrived, flashed her million - dollar smile for everyone, and set about arranging the merchandise for transport. Once loaded into the ENP van, she’d leave; the summer sun beckoning her grey chariots to the Mae Taeng. I never saw her working at the Park, but the results are tangible now. After a week of long days between our operations, things started to turn around: shops were rearranged, a better inventory was established, and the sales crew became more motivated. Each evening, she would return to the office, relax, and savor her time with Lek. When the occasional email or computer trouble popped up, she shuffled over to me and gently asked, “I know boys your age are brilliant with the computer, perhaps you could help me with this problem?” I always obliged and was given many thanks and her trademark smile, huge rewards for the simple assistance I traded.

One afternoon we joked about her youthful energy and vigor by the water cooler, how, at this rate, no one would ever correctly guess her age. I remember her laughing then, the rich, full sound and light in her eyes, and have difficulty juxtaposing that image with what came next. A stroke, swift and unforgivable, stole her over the weekend. A beautiful spirit set adrift in the great beyond. That memory, a simple exchange I would have otherwise forgotten, has become a monument to the great woman I knew far too briefly. I’ll always remember her as she was then: smiling, exuberant, warm.

Knowing impermanence is knowing death. It’s witnessing the end of a fairy tale beautiful relationship, of seeing a husband’s tears in the overcast afternoon light. That knowledge may also offer hope though. My moments with Nancy, and millions more she shared with others, were ephemeral. Every second everywhere, interactions between impermanent people, all adding up to immortality. I barely knew you, but these moments live on. And always will.

1 comment:

  1. I am very sorry for your loss. Life is so fleeting, and despite all the preparations one might make for the future there is no guarantee of one. Being mortal is humbling.