“Build your happiness,” he told me with a sly smile. We were perched on two small wooden stools outside his tiny hut by the river, watching fishing boats returning home from a night’s journey. Moments earlier, I had been stepping on stones softened by the caress of Medewi waves, ambling with a heavy heart from the dawn’s alarming news; my father’s health had deteriorated again.
I had spotted a group of local fishermen untangling their nets and collecting their catch. I approached with a gentle curiosity, assuming a smile as our shared language. A tall middle-aged man emerged, looking youthful in a grey beanie hat. I was taken aback by his English and direct manner of speaking on philosophical topics, such as the self and God. He seemed to be intrigued by the peculiar girl who had befriended his village and invited me for lunch with his wife.
I then continued my stroll, but on my way back, the gentleman found me in silent tears – I could no longer contain my grief from that morning’s weight. Rather than cringe, he offered coffee and conversation. I felt solace in his calm and encouraging demeanor. He told me stories of his travels, anecdotes of people he met along the way, and how life seemed to fall into place at the right moment. He believed human beings were united in their universal desire for satisfaction. More importantly, he spoke of the unquestionable freedom in the simple acceptance of everything, good or ill. “We must force ourselves to surpass and continue to build upwards,” he explained.
I flew home a week later, putting an end to two beautiful months on this island. Shortly thereafter, on the hazy morning of May 17th, my father passed away. In the days that followed, I sought for a way to honor his transition. I had witnessed Balinese spirituality first-hand and felt an impetus to adopt and adapt their tradition of canang (daily offerings). Together with my family, I created personalized flowered baskets, adorned with fine sand and shells from my father’s favorite beach, bits of his favorite Belgian chocolate, topped with Balinese incense and sprinkled with Massachusetts seawater, all in an effort to guide his spirit safely back to the home and family that still longed for him.
At times, I transport myself back to that fateful Bali morning, where a complete stranger had opened his heart, providing me with consolation and perspective when I had felt lost. His honest character and raw emotion had been profound and refreshing. He had challenged me with the thought-provoking choice of happiness as an unwavering decision. Now, in this present moment in the face of adversity, I see overwhelming value in this man’s message. I feel more empowered to choose positivity. I will follow the path of conscious happiness, always treasure that simple moment in the midday sun, gazing out at the river flowing into the boundless sea, finding peace in acceptance.
By Sophie Van Houtte
Magazine issue > Fotofolio