Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A Prayer for the Crying King

Dragons swirl in wood over the rooftops. Ancient tribal machetes hang next to colonizers’ pistols. And the king—the owner of it all—is crying.

I am confused.

Just a few minutes ago at home, I was trying to convince my 3-year-old that he did, in fact, need to use the toilet. That he then needed to put his pants back on before running around in the yard with the sitter.

Then I rode in the back of my car, my husband driving and our American visitor—the one with a knack for languages and an interest in culture—in the front.

We drove past the city dump where the children sort trash; past the milk carton sticking out of the pile; past the spot where we bottomed out the car on the car-sized pot hole.

We turned the car into the complex that houses a museum, a pavilion, and a couple of burial houses—all lined with the carved dragons of an ancient tribe. It’s a tourist spot of sorts, a place to learn about local culture.

It was all built by the powerless king of this local tribe of 70,000 people. The one who began crying two minutes after we arrived.

I see the tears and wonder what I missed, what I didn’t hear or understand from this soft-spoken tribal leader. Did someone die? Is he sick? Who has broken his heart?

I lean in, listening hard to his story about this Japanese woman who he doesn’t know and has never met, who wrote a book about his people.

That’s it, then. He is so touched that someone from the outside cared enough about his people to research them and write about them that he begins crying. Then he chokes out his request—that we somehow contact her and thank her for her work.

So, he is crying because someone listened and heard.

The three of us—our friend, my husband and I—exchange confused glances and even try to change the subject to something lighter.

So, then he moves onto stories of pirates and colonizers, conquerors and corrupt governments. He points out the machetes and the pistols in this museum. More than just artifacts, they record the violence.

Now his people live in rat-infested shacks and stoop over nets for catching seaweed they can sell for 3 cents a pound—dried. Some of them are my friends and for them, I have cried, too.

This king has become the Keeper of Insults, though he has no real power and people don’t listen—well, except for the Japanese author, of course...and now three Americans...and you.

Centuries of mistreatment, of abuse—this man keeps track and takes them to heart. There is a way out, though—a way for reconciliation, he says. Representatives from warring factions each slice their own arm with a machete. They drink each others’ blood and that seals the truce.

Blood shed for peace. I listen to his words—his quiet voice—and I understand something about that.

This group longs for people to listen, but they themselves haven’t even heard. They are at war while there is Peace-maker who has written a book of love for them.

May this Keeper of Insults someday meet the Keeper of Promises. And may machetes turn to a Sword and the tears become laughter.

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