Friday, September 28, 2012

Devi Leiper Does Development

Devi asked me to write a new post specifically mentioning her by name.  It seems, as she told me, that if you Google 'Devi Leiper', the first mention that shows up is my earlier post from the summer of 2011 when we attended her bucolic wedding to Derek in a Colorado State Park.

Personally, of course, I was chuffed!  Hey, a #1 Google hit from my Bambuddhism blog!  When I can't find a way into the publishing world for the longer pieces I write, Google honors my deep Leiper connection with a #1 for Devi's wedding.  What's there not to like, I asked?

Well, it seems that Devi's professional world warrants at least as much attention as her marital one.  Fair enough, I suppose.  Although no matter what professional role our dearly beloved Devi takes on during her life, her marriage and those she loves will always serve as a better totem of her existence here on earth, methinks.

Still, sweet Devi of the lowlands (Cambodia, now...) asked for a new post and how could I say no to the oldest daughter of my life-long best friend?

For me, actually, as these years sail forward, one of the previously unfamiliar joys is the 'getting to know' the children of the parents we have grown up with and loved along the way.  I remember decades ago saying that to my dear friend, Davis Baltz, when we were younger then than now.  How we tried to peer darkly ahead to a day when we could have children of our own who would wander the world, like we did, bringing back riches of stories, fragrances and friendships.

Ahh, 'Ithaka'...  the poet Cavafy always appears at such moments... to remind us...

So when Devi told us a month ago that she'd be in Kathmandu for a conference for her global women's initiative, we immediately offered her our home for as many days as she could spare us in between her critical conferencing among her colleagues.  In fact, we were so excited, we even cleaned up Ezra's old room (since he's taken over Joshua's bigger room...) so that it wasn't still pre-occupied by the haphazard collection of boxes and books -- the flotsam and jetsam -- of our lives.

I'd actually asked Ezi to do the deed before Devi arrived from Bangkok on a Sunday Thai flight, which he did in inimitable Ezi-style: thoughtfully, conscientiously, carefully, and ever so slowly.  So the day before Devi's imminent arrival, I asked Gita if she could help.  Whoosh!  Within an hour, she and Laxmi had moved everything toute suite to the storage room by the garage.  No fuss, no mess.  No Proustian reflections for them that each paper and object had educed from Ezi's sentimental memories.

Attachments...  the sinews of our emotional life; the way even the slightest of tokens can send us off in hours of recall and deeper appreciation of the experiences of our individual lives...

Can a dear friend's child be such an emotional attachment, as well?  The cause for so much inner thought travel back along the trails of our earlier days and lives?

"The places we have known do not belong only to the world of space on which we map them for our own convenience. They were only a thin slice, held between the contiguous impressions that composed our life at that time; the memory of a particular image is but regret for a particular moment; and houses, roads, avenues are as fugitive, alas, as the years."          

Marcel Proust,  'Swann's Way'

While Devi contemplates the world of international development, the joys, passions and anxieties of working on issues of social importance through organizations and individuals who she can never really deeply know,  I am absorbed in the mere joy of having my best friend's daughter here in our home, among us, a message in a bottle from the life I lived with her father for so many years.

Development is important: sans doubt!  The lives of those who benefit from our good will and hard work around the world.  Good deeds compounded.  Education, public health, micro-loans, equality, representation, leadership skills et al.  The global indicators of well-being and wealth in a world where  actual sharing comes with such reluctance.

But I can't see development issues within Devi while sitting over dinner and a glass of chilled white wine with Ezi, Shakun and little Leah in our Licchavi Grove home.  It's quiet in the evening here above the politics and rancor of Kathmandu.  Only the occasional owlet cries in the forested darkness.  I listen and observe this lovely, caring young woman, a beautiful blend of her American and Cambodian parents, a tussle between her desire to do good and yet live sincerely.

I hear her honest, struggling thoughts on the uncertainties and deceptions that envelop international aid.  Her late-20s search for meaning.  Her wounded innocence and heartfelt desire to bring integrity to her work.  She stands in front of the leather-bound books by the dining table, asking aloud if she could find more tactile, fulfilling work away from the necessary mediocrities and compromises of the development business.  Working with her hands, handling literature, creating beauty, dark velum in her hands instead of carefully nuanced and slightly overstated monthly activity reports.

Devi looks up from her food, her eyes questioning, her thoughts pure but aching.  Life's mixed and uncertain ambitions before her.  The modest slights and mental equivalences living in the world of a weighty bureaucracy where the most ambitious often succeed and thrive best.  Their questionable motivations and morality often praised from outside, but revealed more truly from within.  The office deceptions and decisions that slowly water-board a good and sincere soul.

Pain and suffering are always inevitable for a large intelligence and a deep heart. The really great men must, I think, have great sadness on earth.” 

Fyodor Dostoyevsky, "Crime and Punishment"

These are the years when our young must learn to face an adult world that their school books never quite completely described.  Where the motivations of the gentle observe the harsher truths of society.  Where one learns an unexpected strength to continue to work though human institutions or chose to step quietly aside to find a truth in family or trade or independence that can never be gained through official work, no matter how noble and high-minded the rhetoric.

This is the Google of the darker places.  The difficult choices that test our resilience and our strength.  No longer the grace and light of a youthful marriage on an open grassy plain to another caring soul surrounded by beloved family and friends.

This is the Bambuddhism of greater honesty and pain where a friend's daughter is tested more than she wishes and more than one wants to observe.

This is the courage of an individual who one loves, yet cannot fully protect.

This is not a #1 Google hit, but life's hits that define and etch our humanity, our loyalties and our deepest affections.

This is why we love you, Devi, dear.

And wait patiently for you and Derek to return to share our Budhnilkantha home, where, if we listen carefully, the owlets cry at night for our souls.


suzanne wallen said...

Keith, Food for the soul..your old friend, Suzanne

Keith D. Leslie said...

Suzanne, thanks! Yes, these are issues that we all have faced in our professional lives. They are just a bit more poignant when we see our children work through these challenges in their own careers and lives. xoxo, K.