Thinking of Karen at Wat Phnom

Phnom Penh is named after a woman called Daun Penh. My favorite place in this city is the temple that honors her called Wat Phnom. Inside the 700 year old temple there are statues of Penh on which people come and smear lipstick and blush. They bring her cigarrettes and nail polish and fruit as offerings. This may be my own projection and lack of fluency in the Khmer language, but it feels like the statues and images of her honor both her femininity and her strength in a way that other female religious icons are not often depicted.

Yesterday I learned that a teacher of mine from high school is very sick with cancer and I felt like Wat Phnom would be the perfect place to send healing wishes her way and honor the memories I have of her. She was and is cool and funny and smart and was definitely one of women I looked up to as a kid. She taught me that it was OK to let my light shine and when I got caught in petty high school nonsense as teenagers do, she reminded me that I was a bigger person than it and that I needed to do the right thing. The last bit of advice was mortifying at the time, but has stuck with me even into my adult years when it is sometimes tempting to act with the emotional maturity of a teenager.

The Cambodians believe that holding a bird in your hand and printing wishes on it will give those wishes a good chance to reach the heavens once you let the bird fly away. This bird’s for you, Karen. I am grateful my path crossed yours. xx

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