Some lines just feel too obvious to write, like “I had so many thoughts running through my head”, of course I do, that’s why I do this, so I can feel a little less crazy. I went to see this film a few weeks ago, which made no sense since I don’t have money for rent or food, but I’ll go see a documentary about a monk that was imprisoned for 33 years, just in case I run in to this person. The 2nd to last person I had any serious physical contact with in the last 4 years, we made out, we didn’t play sports. I try and sound so careful and I just sound weird. I get ready to go see this film. I put on my yellow pillowcase skirt with the blossoms and branches on it that I just sewed, needs a slit, because I can’t bike in it, and I wanted to bike there, didn’t happen, couldn’t ride, and didn’t feel like I had the time to change clothes, and the outfit seemed more important. I get on the bus, and It’s the usual hell. Some drunk guy leering at me, talking to himself, people guzzling their beverages, and this one woman who was practically yelling on her cell-phone. I get off, finally. I figure if there are no seats, it’s fine I wasn’t meant to see it. I got there, plenty of seats, no sign of the 2nd to last person I made out with 4 years ago. Not a big surprise.
The theatre is filled with mostly white people, and some young Tibetan musicians performing on stage. I am feeling extra weird, like I shouldn’t be there, and then feeling like I needed to get something from this. I listen to the story of this man, Palden Gyatso who endured 33 years of torture for the right to pray, amongst other things, but quite simply to practice his faith, and he did. Even while he was having electric prods shoved in his mouth that destroyed all his teeth, or being forced to crawl on his knees over glass and small stones, being hung naked upside down, and beaten with a series of brutal instruments. He practiced his faith while he was starving and thirsty. He no longer had family, his father and brother had been beaten to death, and his step-mother had also endured beatings, his mother died the day after he was born. I kept wondering what was the matter with me, why wasn’t I feeling any strong emotions for him and why was I critiquing this film? That’s not what I was there to do, but I felt it happening while I was watching every scene. From the lisping European torture expert, to the overly dramatic music telling me when I was supposed to feel fear, terror or sadness. He had me twice, when he spoke of his first meeting with the Dalai Lama and telling him his story, and the soft breath he took in when his suffering was acknowledge by his spiritual leader. The other is when he told the story of licking his teeth to gather saliva and giving that saliva to his good friend Lobsang and feeding him like a parent feeding a child. I see him cry for the first time, I get a small sense of the weight of his sadness in this moment. The Dalai Lama doesn’t come across as a clearly sympathetic figure. I have heard him at public talks and he has been much more effective, for me anyway, when he’s not speaking in English, his meaning seems to get lost otherwise, not uncommon, we often express ourselves best in our own language. The other part that I had trouble with was the demonizing of China, it felt too simple. virtuous and peaceful Tibetans along with their western allies facing down the G-dless Chinese.
I felt like this man, Palden Gyatso, didn’t get the telling he deserved. Something didn’t sit right with me when I was watching it. Like if the story was told in a different way would more people see it? Would it have made a difference to the situation in Tibet? Could it have been more healing for him? and why didn’t I like him more, I wanted to. I wanted to appreciate this film, because it is an important story. The title Fire under the Snow is a powerful image in my mind. The title is based on Palden Gyatso’s book. I think the problem was that I didn’t have faith. I didn’t have faith that anything is going to really change.
What I appreciate about buddhism is that asking questions, seeking deep truths are a great part of the practice. Questions of ourselves, and each other. I often feel like there is no room to question when there has been severe trauma and suffering, like somehow it would take away or deny the suffering or the trauma to question it. I see it in situations where there is poverty and abuse. We don’t question the wealth, because they earned it apparently, and if there poor, well, bad shit happened. There is no tidy end here, so It ends here, with more questions.