Saturday, April 28, 2012

Encountering Teachers We Aren’t Expecting: Lessons from Pahn

I want to tell you about Pahn. He has taught me two valuable lessons at Palm Tree.

LESSON 1: What we are designed for

My fist visit to Palm Tree was with my sister, Taylor, in 2008. It was our first day at the orphanage. Palm Tree was hard to find because it was tucked away in a hidden alley. We paid our tuk-tuk driver and walked through the big blue iron gates. A young boy stood at the entrance grinning. I could tell he had some kind of disability. Without hesitation, he walked over to Taylor with his arms wide open. Taylor, smiling back, bent down to give him a hug. A hug, however, was not enough. While clinging onto her with his hands, he slowly lifted his feet off the ground and into her. What a welcome…

I later came to discover that this little boy’s name was Pahn. He had never seen us before, nor did he have any knowledge of our coming to Palm Tree. None of that mattered though. We were older, strangers, and obviously foreigners, but he didn’t care. To Pahn, we were an opportunity to love. A chance to feel, to connect, to play. Nothing else mattered. It’s as if I saw all of mankind’s potential in that moment. What would this world look like if we were like Pahn? If we could look through the trivial differences in the world and realize we are all the same? I think if you boil it down, Pahn is right; that we were all designed for love and connection.

LESSON 2: Have a smile that stops the wheels

Pahn is doing much better mentally. He speaks and understands a little more Khmer, and travels outside the gates to a special school everyday. He has taken on more responsibilities too, like cleaning. He plays well with the other kids and everyone seems to enjoy his company.

I’ve been particularly enjoying Pahn’s presence during my second stay here. I feel like he understands me more. He walks up to me wearing a deep smile when I’m sitting on the steps and stares into my eyes. He sometimes playfully brings his eyebrow low and frowns, but always follows it with another laugh and smile. Then he sits down next to me and we sit together. He doesn’t talk; he doesn’t want anything from me. We just sit. I feel like there are few people that cause your insides to stir when they smile at you, or perhaps stop the wheels of your head for just a moment. Pahn’s smile can do that, can truly bring you joy. He puts something behind them. 

I’m going to try that more. My smiles are usually just an automatic reaction to someone I’ve made eye contact with. Queued by societal prescription, I do it to avoid any awkwardness. I’m going to try and be more like Pahn, to put something behind my eyes. I often forget they are windows to the soul. But it’s more than that too. I’m going to try and put something behind my words instead of just chatting. To say, “Screw awkwardness!” I want to take time and be here right now. I want to stop time with a look and a smile, and connect like Pahn does.

You never know how lessons will come to you, or who your teacher will be. God teaches us through unpredictable and unorthodox ways. Maybe it’s his way of humbling us when we think we figured out how things work. These are the lessons I’ve learned from a young, Cambodian boy with a disability; invaluable lessons he will never know he gave me. Thanks, Pahn.


“If I speak with the tongues

of men and of angels, 

but do not have love, 
I have become a noisy gong 
                                                       or a clanging cymbal.”
1 Corinthians 13:1

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