Desmond Tutu said, “You don't choose your family. They are God's gift to you, as you are to them.” With my American family, my family of origin, this is true. It is also true about my Tibetan family, but not in the same way. They are a family that I chose, or they chose me, or God chose us for each other. Many years ago, a ran into a Tibetan woman on the street, walking with crutches, as she had broken her ankle. I told her that I lived in her same building and had heard about her. Then I asked her what kind of exercises she was doing. She didn't know that she should be doing exercises. So I told her that I was a physical therapist (physio, to my British friends), and could help her with exercises. This started the beginning of our friendship. Numerous visits, sharing about life in America and Tibet, visits to the hospital for her surgery to remove the badly-placed pins from her ankle, were all little ties that began to bind us. But it was my first visit to her home, not in the city, but in a small town 24 hours away by bus, that we became family. It was the summer of 2000. After a very long and tiring bus trip, a group of my friends and I arrived in the middle of the night. I had called from a town about 7 hours away, and told them not to wait up for us, as our bus had had trouble, and we would be coming in after midnight. When we got to their home, the entire family was up waiting for us, and had bread, meat, vegetables, rice and hot tea all prepared for us. What a special welcome to their home!
Later that week, I treated my Tibetan mother for her back pain. Turns out that a rib was stuck out of place. I had studied Chinese language (Mandarin) for only a year and thought I was doing really well. My Tibetan Mother had told me she didn't speak Chinese, only Tibetan, but I learned that week that she spoke a little Chinese. None of them spoke English, so this family was good for my language skills (or lack thereof). My Tibetan sister, Bamo, who had had the broken ankle, was my interpreter, as she seemed to understand my poor Chinese better than anyone else. So I explained to my Respected Mother that her rib was stuck and I could very easily unstick it, and proceded to explain what I was going to do, and what she should do. Bamo interpreted for me. The explanations on what to do seemed to go well, but explaining the problem seemed a bit difficult, especially with the entire family watching. I looked at all the family members, with their puzzled expressions, and tried again. This rib is not moving, and I will assist Respected Mother in moving her rib. Again, more puzzled expressions. Finally, on the third time, a little smirk came across Bamo's face. She understood what I was saying. Then she proceeded to tell me that I was saying was 'pig ribs', not 'people ribs'. The entire family burst out in laughter. I had to laugh with them, as “I am not here to do my job, but to entertain the local people with my language mistakes”.
Now, this language mistake is one of the ties that binds me with my Tibetan family. Every single year, especially during the summer at the horse festival when the entire family gets together, they tell this story. “Remember that time when Zhaxi Zhuoma (me) called Mother's ribs 'pig ribs'? That was so funny!” Every single summer I have to go through the humiliation again and again. Just like with my American family, they never forget a mistake that I have made. I have learned to laugh right along with them. Fortunately for me, it is only once a year that the entire family is together. They tell the story in Tibetan, except for using the Chinese words for 'pig ribs' and 'people ribs'. So I understand when the story is told. And one of these days, I will be able to understand it in the Tibetan language, as well. Family – you can't live with them, and you definitely can't live without them.
One of the greatest gifts
That life can give to anyone
Is the very special love that families share...
As years go by,
It's good to know that there will always be
Certain people in our lives who care.
For there are countless things
That only families have in common
And memories that no one else can make...
And these precious ties that bind a family together
Are bonds that time and distance cannot break.
How fortunate we are
When we have relatives to love us,
It makes the world a happy place to be...
Few gifts in life
Will last as long
Or touch the heart as deeply
As the very special gift
-Craig S. Tunks