If you’re not looking for it, you’d miss the Htee Sat Mat Ywar Monastery that’s tucked away on a quiet street in Northwest Amarillo. Over the past few months, local monks have been observing Buddhist Lent, an annual season when they seek to abstain from vices and pursue greater religious devotion. This season is also known as the Rains Retreat, since it corresponds with the rainy season in Burma. The monks’ robes become very dirty during this wet season, so every October, the end of Buddhist Lent is celebrated with a robe offering ceremony where the community can offer new robes to the monks.
Last month, as we sat on the floor of this building and watched people make offerings and pray, it was hard to believe that we were less than five minutes from our own home. It felt like another world: trees decorated with cash, ornate gift bags covering every table, monks snapping pictures with their smartphones, Buddhist flags hanging along the ceiling, bright yellow walls, beautiful flowers everywhere, incense, the sound of bells, dancing men encircling the building, multiple languages being whispered and chanted and shouted, the smells of mohinga and various curries wafting from the adjacent building, and stacks of shoes piled outside the temple.
Amarillo is home to a bewildering array of cultures, languages and ethnicities. Life is unfolding with all of its colors and smells and sounds, and yet it is so easy to miss it all! We’re so busy and distracted. It’s easy to drive right past the temples. It’s easy to listen to a podcast and fail to hear the other languages. It’s easy to stare into my phone instead of making eye contact with a woman from Burma. It’s easy to entertain myself, to focus inwardly and to shut out the opportunities.
But when we postpone our checklist, put down that phone, shake that hand, and listen? We make friends like Naw Win Win, who invite us to experience their world with them. This is so much better than sitcom reruns and mindless social media scrolling. We drove just five minutes down the road, and arrived in Burma. Where could you drive? Who could you meet? The world is waiting…