The One-Month-Seven-Day Rule of Forgiveness

I have a friend.

That isn't terribly unusual for me but this is a special friend. He manages my life. He manages it so well in fact, that I've forgotten everything I used to know about cooking, cleaning, laundry, gardening, and grocery shopping.

He does it all. If something breaks he fixes it. If a light bulb burns out he changes it. He's better than the best husband anyone could ever have without the sticky complications of intimacy.

I live in Bali, Indonesia. It was the choice I made after the last marriage failed. I retired, sold everything and moved to the opposite side of the globe. My friend was the staff person assigned to the house I rented. I was a bit off men at the time (the divorce you know) and privately bemoaned my fate at having a male helper instead of a sweet girl hovering around, because hover he did. When I walked out on the balcony at dawn, there he was in the garden looking up at me. "You want breakfast now?" he'd ask. "Omelet? French toast? What you want?"

When I'd swallowed the last bite there he was again, "You finished? You have plan today?" When he wasn't hovering he lingered, sweeping my room or making my bed. Had I feared loneliness coming to a place where I knew not a soul my friend left no opportunity for that.

As days passed I grew curious.

Who was this person who never seemed to sleep, who smiled and joked with me non-stop and filled my room with flowers. He spoke little English and I spoke no Indonesian so meaningful conversation was impossible. With sign language and an English/Indonesian Dictionary I learned that he was married and twenty-nine years old. (Really? You look 16.) And his wife was expecting.

Months went by.

Fascinated with my friend and his culture, I began to study the language for one purpose: I wanted inside his head. I wanted to know if emotions churned under that always smiling, placid and kind exterior. I was told that the language was easy, no conjugations and no tenses. Wrong. The language was difficult but I was determined. Slowly-slowly I gained access to a world steeped in ritual and alive with unseen forces. As trust grew between us I was allowed rare glimpses into the workings of the Balinese male mind.

Fast forward to last night.

My friend and I sit across from each other. A thick, chewable sludge settles in the bottom of our coffee glasses and I add another pour of hot water to this drink that I've learned to love: Bali kopi. We talk about a man in his village. I speak to him in Indonesian and he answers in English. It's a strange arrangement but it works for us.

"How will people treat him now that he's done this?" I ask. I know the person in question and he has the same kind spirit as my friend but there was a disagreement over a cow. The details are lost on me.

"They will be angry," he says, then smiles. "But no problem. Satu bulan tuju hari."

"One month seven days? What does that mean?"

"They are angry for one month and seven days. Then no more. This is the way in Bali."

"Huh? You're kidding."

"No, not kidding. For one month seven days people look angry, don't speak. After one month and seven days people smile. 'How are you? Everything good?"

I shake my head amazed and ponder this as I've pondered many things in my four years here. It's a brilliant formula, actually. Neighbors are allowed to be upset and express their strong feelings. The wrongdoer is made to understand the consequences of his actions. There's an inherent karmic balance. Then it's over. Peace is restored, business as usual. Forgiveness.

Balinese culture has layer upon layer of meaning clothed in metaphor, idiom, and story. I've barely scratched the surface. But in many ways here is not so different from anywhere else. Friendships are fused and nuggets of wisdom emerge over coffee. Tonight I've been offered up another piece of Bali in all its complexity and ancient wise ways. I treasure these golden moments.

How fortunate I am to have a friend.

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