By Michelle Munro
When I left work at the Halifax Shambhala Centre Friday, Shambhala Centre Director, Yeshe Fuchs, encouraged me to go to the celebration of the birth of Jetsun Drukmo at the Kalapa Court, on Saturday. I was not too sure about it, given how my husband and three year old daughter, Maisy, came to pick me up from work the day before. At that time my hungry, tired, fresh from a long day at day care, daughter, cried, screamed, marched herself in and out of Mr. David Brown’s office in A suite, tried to bite me, and exhibited other behavior that makes you want to hide as a parent. Yeshe went on to encourage me, “It’s not a problem,” she said. “She is not a problem here.” Yeshe has four grown children of her own. All of them grew up in the sangha and still relate to it in their own ways. “It’s good for her.” She went on to tell me stories of living with her children at Marpa House and dharma centres. What she was saying made sense but I was not convinced.
See, in my time in the sangha I have heard all about children being welcome, and the good old days of everyone watching each others’ children at Seminary in 1973, playgroups, and children’s audiences with the Druk Sakyong. But this is different from my experience. My husband was born into the sangha, a second generation, Shambhala School going guy himself. I hear his stories of going to programs with parents, building forts with the gomdens, and so on. Yet somehow, since the birth of my daughter, I could not quite envision it. Sure, there were celebrations like Children’s Day, and Bodhi School, and the odd brave mom with her baby at a talk or two at the Centre. But not the infused Shambhala landscape of the past. Or at least the one I made up in my mind. There seemed to be a gap.
When I got home Friday there was a message from Joanne Fordham, asking me if I could write a little piece for the Chronicles, if I was indeed going to the Court. “Interesting”, I thought. Maybe. Saturday morning came, errands were run, hectic as usual, still not decided. I was fortunate to be at the Court on the day their Majesties arrived home, do I really need to go again? I wondered. I could go by myself, but I want to spend time with my family. But it’s Maisy’s nap time. What if she is wild and unruly, at the Court of all places Finally, after yet another round of indecision in the afternoon we decided to ask Maisy. “Do you want to meet the King and Queen of Shambhala? And their princess?” She replied with an enthusiastic “Yes”! So we all scrambled, got dressed appropriately in the next five minutes and rushed off to the Court.
We got there close to 2pm, the advertised starting time. There were many cars parked beside the road, and familiar faces walking towards the Court. When we reached the driveway we were greeted by some sharply dressed Kasung, all smiles. On the way in, we ran into Robyn Trail, one of my husband, Alec’s, former school teachers. He was joined by his wife and four year old daughter.
We walked down the long driveway. Alec smiled at me “See, it’s ok, there are other kids here too.”
Prayer flags lined the driveway, blowing in the wind. We stopped to bow at the last set, before entering. The smell of juniper was in the air, and Diana Torbert was playing a lovely piece on a keyboard that had been set up outside. It was like being at a family reunion, with more lapel pins. Lots of smiling faces to greet, many of whom had not met Maisy yet.
I immediately noticed there seemed to be a different flavor about this event. There were many small children collecting on the lawn here and there. Also, several infant babies. More than I would have expected to be there. I felt myself begin to relax. Several people commented to me that it seemed to be a “younger crowd.”
At about 3pm, we gathered at the front of the house, and shortly thereafter the Sakyong, Sakyong Wangmo, and their tiny baby girl, Jetsun Drukmo, joined us in brocade covered chairs with their attendants. They all looked well and cheerful. The weather varied. Overcast, sunny, sprinkles. We chanted the long lhasang chant. Maisy started out on Alec’s shoulders, studying the scene. Halfway through the chant she decided to travel further down the lawn with Alec, content to rearrange branches downed by the recent visit of Hurricane Earl. Out came the lhasang flags and they were carried around the billowing juniper by the Mukpo and Ripa families, Richard Reoch, and other dignitaries. “KI KI SO SO!” Alec, Maisy, and myself held hands, and went through the smoke, together. The first time we had done so as a family. It felt good.
President Reoch made some remarks. He spoke of the delight in our community regarding the birth of this royal baby. He read a statement from the Paris Shambhala Centre, expressing their joy upon hearing the news. He then read an aspiration, written by the Sakyong to his daughter. It outlined the long, noble lineage that she was from–both on his side, and the Ripa side. It was full of love and adoration, just as every father feels for his little girl–their first born. We were asked by the President to have a moment of silence, and form our own aspiration for Jetsun Drukmo in our hearts. There was a palpable sweetness about the crowd. Then we were asked to form a line. This was our opportunity to make an offering, a khata, a flower, or gift of some kind, to Jetsun Drukmo and her family. Maisy was excited to meet the princess. This was her first time meeting the Sakyong. Rather than handing over the gift bag we brought, she was excited and decided to open the gift and show the Sakyong and Sakyong Wangmo the book she chose for the baby princess. She also decided she had to show their Majesties that she can stomp her foot three times. The Sakyong laughed and said, “She has a plan,” to which I replied, “She always has a plan.” He seemed entertained. I was surprised to be feeling at ease. I noticed how the baby seemed so tiny next to my three year old–her little fingers and dark head of hair. Even a big yawn seemed tiny.
Next stop was the refreshment booth. There were several punches and cake being served. It started to rain, and we opened our umbrella and hid beneath it, eating our cake and watching the crowd. There were about 200 people, maybe more.
Throughout the afternoon, the chanting and talking was interrupted by the loud sound of planes overhead. Apparently there was an airshow the same weekend. We decided to leave before the toasts. It was after 4pm and the offering line was winding up. There was a deafening roar in the sky. We looked up to see a group of planes flying in a perfect “V” shape, and there was a burst of applause.
We drove home with smiles on our faces. It was so nice to see such a cheerful crowd. To see the smile on the Sakyong’s face. To be there, as a family. Together. With our community. To see other parents and children. It all seemed so relaxed. So workable. So special in such an ordinary way.
I think for some of us, the birth of this precious girl, Jetsun Drukmo Yeshe Sarasvati Ziji Mukpo, represents a new connection. To know that this deeply personal path of parenthood is also being experienced by the Sakyong, makes you feel like there is a shared understanding of a love so great it is hard to articulate. Something only another parent can truly understand. My hope is this love will radiate out, thoughout our kingdom, on every level.