My Lama and Me!

My cell phone  was ringing as I climbed into my car in the parking lot of Trader Joes. I had just finished an 8 mile run and stopped on my way home to grab some food. I was starving! I couldn’t face the provisions in my refrigerator  which contained one tomato and a half carton of almond milk.

I couldn’t wait to get home and slam a huge meal. I grabbed up the phone noticing a strange string of foreign numbers calling.

“Hello” I was tentative wondering if I had to deal with a wrong number.

“Molly Sheridan, my dear friend” said a melodic voice with a strong accent from India.

“Lama Tsphel! How are you my dear friend?”

“Molly, I wish you many blessings my dear friend. I am so very very happy to get your letter!”

I had written my Lama friend 2 weeks ago telling him I would be returning to his village. I had met Lama 3 years ago in Leh, India in the middle of the Himalayas of Northern India. I was actually on the border of China and Pakistan attempting to be the first American women to run 138 miles nonstop. It was a race that was conceived by Dr Rajat Chauhan of New Delhi. Rajat had contacted me after learning that I had successfully completed the  Badwater race in Death Valley 135 miles nonstop from Badwater to Mt Whitney. He invited me to the Himalayas to run his race.

It’s kinda funny even writing this down since I didn’t begin running until I was 48 years old. Through a set of interesting circumstances I discovered running and my love of running long distance.

Lama Tsephel was one of the first people I met in Leh. I wandered the streets of Leh and visited the shops experiencing the mysterious and exotic culture on the edge of the world in a remote location. In the center of town stood the monastery, and when i entered it, there he was, sitting quietly meditating at the foot of a giant Buddha. I was in awe of the temple and felt the reference and the serenity of the village people worshipping there. I sat and listened to the chanting and drum beats and wanted to immediately submerge myself into this sacred place.  Lama T wore the traditional red robes of a Buddist monk his large brown eyes and kind face looked over at me with curiosity. I imagined that a tall 6 foot blond didn’t enter their temple every day. There were no wrinkles on his skin and it was hard to tell if he was 30 or 50 years old, although I expected he was somewhere in-between. I introduced myself and felt an immediate connection with him.

Since I had to acclimate in Leh for 2 weeks prior to the attempt to run at 18,000 feet, I visited Lama Tsephel daily at his monastery and we had long chats about life in Leh and compared it to life in the States. One time I glimpsed a tshirt under his robes that said Harvard. I had no idea if he ever went to Harvard but he was so intelligent I knew it was possible. He was full of interesting stories of his life in the Himalayas. I simply loved being in his country and felt an infinity with the people there. They are warm and loveable people with a culture devoted to Buddha and a reverence for all living things.

The second year visiting the monk I asked for his blessing on my race and asked him to also bless my crew who would be supporting me.
He took my hands and said, “You do not need a blessing.”

I was a little startled and said, ” I don’t?” Running non stop going over two mountain passes of 18,000 ft on the only road in the Himalayas, starting at 14, 000 ft was daunting to say the least. I needed more than a blessing to get through this!

“You are already blessed by the moon and the stars,” he continued. “Now you must face your destiny.” I remember his wise council and teachings since our first meeting.

“Lama T I am so happy you received my letter! I am so excited that you called. I am coming back to Leh this summer and I hope to see you!”

“I am so happy,” he replied. “Your letter brings me joy. I will look to your return to Leh this summer. I will accompany you for your race!”

I had asked the Lama to crew me this year, July 2013. That simply means he will be riding in my support vehicle as i race in the Himalayas again this year. My fourth year back to Leh and back to the magical Himalayas that I love.

“Lama T, is there anything I can bring you from the states this year?” I asked. “Do you need running shoes or anything special?”

“I need a teacher” he answered immediately.

“What? A teacher?” I wasn’t quite sure I understood him.

“Can you come and teach after your race?” He asked.

“Teach what?” I was at a loss because I have zero teaching skills and thought maybe we were having a communication break down.

“Can you teach English at my village and the monastery?” his melodic voice implored me.

“Ahhhh, geez, sure” I said. How could I turn down a request from a monk?

“I’m not sure what I can do but I will help” I added, my head spinning.

“Oh I am so happy that you are our teacher. I am so happy. You bring so much joy.”

We ended our conversations and I sat back into my car sitting in the lot of Trader Joes. I had to laugh out loud. I just got talked into teaching English in a rural village in India. Okay, I’m game. I will treat that challenge just like I treat one of my 100 mile endurance races. I’ll jump right in and savor the adventure.

It will be my fourth year back to Leh. I can’t wait.

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