One beautiful summer’s day, Khyentse Rinpoche announced we were going to visit a friend of his in the country. I think we drove down, but we may have caught a train—you must be used to my appalling memory by now. Rinpoche’s friend lived in a little cottage in the grounds of what had been her family’s home that had recently been divided into two and the other half sold off. It had been traumatic, I think, for Rinpoche’s friend, but the cottage and grounds were so very beautiful and so exquisitely English that it was difficult to summon genuine sympathy.
Rinpoche and his entourage were not her only guests, but it wasn’t a huge party. I remember hearing two people I didn’t know admiring a three year old who was running around naked. The woman—a very pleasant person with long grey hair loosely bundled on top of her head in a way that suggested either an aristocratic carelessness about her appearance, or that she had been a hippy in her youth—mentioned that she felt she could understand pedophiles when she saw such a beautiful child. It was the kind of thing I could imagine myself saying—I was disagreeably liberal-minded in my youth—but on this particular occasion I found myself deeply offended by the suggestion and simply couldn’t bring myself even to attempt to sympathize with child abusers.
Anyway, that’s by the bye. After a delicious picnic under a tree on the lawn, we went for a walk to see some donkeys. I had no idea at that time that Rinpoche had such a fondness for donkeys, so it seemed a little strange to be visiting some. But everything in those days was new and strange. All my preconceived ideas about the world were being upended on a daily basis, sometimes two or three at a time, and I had quickly learned it’s better to let it all wash over you for a while than to react too quickly.
I suppose I will have to admit here that I never really grew up. At the time in question I had the emotional maturity of an eight year old. So, when we found the donkeys—they turned out to be minature donkeys and unbearably cute—I not only wanted them to like me but I wanted Rinpoche to see them liking me. Sad, no? Predictably, though, the donkey I chose to gush over was a mean son of a bitch who lashed out with his back legs as I caressed his soft nose, indicating extremely eloquently that I was not his type at all. Fortunately, his hooves only found air, but I felt the rejection keenly and although I put on a brave face, my heart shrivelled and shrank back into itself.
Rinpoche looked hard at the donkeys, but I don’t remember him stroking them. Then we returned to the house and left not long after. Strange the snippets of memory that stick.