Born: May 1926 Died: November 2013
I was on my way via a trekking trip to Nepal to visit Marty for Christmas. Sadly, my wife Denise informed me that Marty died this past Thursday on Thanksgiving Day.
Last June I received an unexpected letter from Marty after not hearing from him for a few years. He wrote that the last thing he told me on my previous visit in 2003 was, “You were here in 1993, again in 2003, so I suppose you’ll be back in 2013.” I replied, “Oh I’ll be back long before then.” Denise and I talked a few times after that and I commited to retiring November 1 and travelling to Nepal to trek and then flying on to Thailand to visit Marty at the Jolly Frog Backpackers Lodge for Christmas.
Sadly, our meeting will not happen but I hope that he was not alone at the end. On the other hand, I think that he chose to live alone and was perhaps okay with that.
Marty left America in 1953 and never returned. He started his foreign life planning to teach English overseas and did for a short while before learning he could live very cheaply in post war Spain on his government pension. Marty suffered a chest wound in Germany in March, 1945 just weeks before the end of the war. He enjoyed telling the story of doctors’ coming into his hospital room in England and starting to feel and prod the top of his head and discussing his lobotomy. Laughing he cried out, ‘Lobectomy not lobotomy! A piece of my lung got removed, not my brain!’
After the war, he attended and graduated from University of Illinois. Hugh Hefner lived across the hall from him. I once asked Marty what he was like and he smiling, replied, ‘Well, he was a real tit man’.
Anyway, back in Spain in the fifties he drifted to the Island of Ibiza where he started getting into meditation and Buddhism. He remained there into the sixties but as Europe recovered and got more expensive he chose to move on. He then moved to a Buddhist Monastary in Sri Lanka, but heard about Thailand and moved to Wat Suan Mokh monastery in the Surat Thani district of Thailand in 1974. He lived there until the last few years as his legs started to fail and he could not handle the long walks required in the serene forest setting of the Wat. So he ended up at the Jolly Frog where he occasionally vacationed to get away from the monks who occasionally got on his nerves. Marty practiced Buddhist meditation, but did not take himself too seriously.
I first visited Marty at the monastery in 1993 and brought him a few simple gifts; box of Malaysian Tea, a book by a famous Thai author, and a shirt. A few days later after taking a meditation class at the Wat I returned to find the tea in the communal tea box for the monks, the book on a table in the library, and shortly afterward was passed by a monk wearing the shirt. At first I was a bit upset, but I came to realize Marty really practice the Buddhist philosophy of detachment and wanted no possessions. Many people talk about, living a minimalist life, but I never met anybody that truly lived that way as much Marty. I was told by some of his friends at the monastery that Marty was very generous and whenever anybody living there or even visitors had problems with money Marty was quick to offer and give help.
Marty was a good man. A man I was glad to come to know late in his life. I will miss him especially this Christmas when I will be alone at the Jolly Frog without him.
It seems family back home is taking care of situation in Thailand with Marty, his remains and such. That is fine. I have decided to carry on and still visit Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha, and to go to the Jolly Frog and then on to do a 10 day meditation retreat at Wat Suan Mokh and see what happens.
At Lumbini today my sadness was lifted. I got to the birthsite of Buddha and was sitting by a beautiful Pisal tree and a teacher and some Nepali students from Butwal came up and wanted to take a picture of me with all the kids in it. All of the boys had plain shirts except for one which had in big letters, The Windy City Chicago. After the picture taking, they started shaking my hand and then other school children started coming up and laughing and shaking my hand. I felt like a politician as I must have shaken over a hundred childrens’ hands. Several more people asked if they could take pictures of me with their family. What a delightful day with the incredibly friendly Nepali people. They are like the Irish. They just ripped the sadness from me. Shortly afterwards I noticed that there were Thai and Sri Lankan monastaries there and I knew what to do. I went to the Thai monastery and no one was there but I got a Nepali volunteer for an eyesight program associated with the monastery and he offered to help and somehow I explained to him what I was hoping to do and he got me escorted into the monastery to light 3 candles in front of the Buddha statue for Marty. I then went to the Sri Lanka monastery and said a prayer and did some walking meditation around the shrine. Marty liked to do meditation walking.
So, I was able to make a prayer at the Thai and Sri Lanka monasteries. Marty had spent the last 45 or so years of his life in these two countries. He used to talk about when he left Sri Lanka he was going to go to one of the 3 K’s referring to Kabul, Afghanistan, Karachi, Pakistan and Kathmandu, Nepal. So, I then went to the Nepal monastery and lit a butter lamp to honor him. One last eerie moment was when my idea for honoring him came to me I was walking very purposely to the Thai monastery I remembered our hour long walks from the Jolly Frog into Kanchanaburi to buy a newspaper. He was 78 at the time and I thought a very strong walker. I am not sure if I felt his presence or just had a nice thought about him.
So the mourning is over and now I feel I am celebrating his life and enjoying the feeling of his presence with me. I now am quite excited about what will happen at the Jolly Frog on the River Kwai just a mile or so from the Bridge on the River Kwai.
January 26: Follow up after visit to Jolly Frog and Wat Suan Mokh. At the Jolly Frog, I met several expats that have known Marty for up to 25 years or longer. John from England, John from Australia, Peter from Britain and others. The expats living at the Jolly Frog don’t seem to use last names.
(continued after a few pictures b