A couple of years ago, my husband’s cousins came to visit us here in Southern California. It was their first time in the United States and they wanted to experience all things American — see the Hollywood sign and the walk of fame, eat pancakes, rent an American sports car, eat a hot dog, take a road trip to the Grand Canyon, go camping, make s’mores, and more. Happily, they were able to check a lot of things off their bucket lists.
One weekend when they were here, the cousins, my husband and I, and another couple rented a van, packed up the camping gear, tons of food, and a little dog, and headed out on an adventure camping at Lake Isabella, CA. On the way, we stopped at a Buddhist Temple and an old west ghost town taking pictures all along the way. Nearing evening we were almost to our campsite and decided to make one quick stop at what was likely the last town before the campsite. In preparation for the stop, we began putting on shoes and grabbing purses, and it was then that we realized the unthinkable. Our cousin’s purse was missing. Panic flooded our bodies as we learned that EVERYTHING was in the purse — all of their cash, passports, credit cards, everything…for both of them. As we retraced our steps, we realized that the purse had to be back at the Buddhist temple. None of our phones had service, so we quickly pulled into a McDonalds to use their wifi. Looking up the temple information, we called immediately. The person who answered did not speak English, and while between the six of us we were fluent in English, French and Arabic, none of us spoke Vietnamese. The man who answered only repeated, “We’re closed. Come back tomorrow.” Our hearts raced, and so we did the only logical thing. We called back, this time with a different caller. We got the same response, and now we were losing daylight. With only three experienced campers, six anxious hearts, and the thought of setting up three tents in the dark, starting a campfire, and cooking all of the food we’d packed, seemed near impossible. So we went back — about a three-hour trip.
Arriving back in Adelanto, and unable to get onto the temple grounds, we found a roadside motel that was surprisingly both affordable and decent. No doubt looking tired and stressed, the three women went in to get the rooms and were greeted by a lovely woman who inquired as to the reason we were in town. We hesitated but then said, “We were traveling through earlier, and we think we left a purse at the Buddhist Temple up the road.” Sensing our concern, she responded, “Oh, if you left it there, it will be fine. I’ll pray for you. I’m sure it will still be there.” We thanked her for her kindness and went quietly to our rooms.
The next morning, my husband, his cousins and one of our friends went straight to the temple. They were greeted by a monk who asked if the purse he was holding under his arm was theirs. He spoke French to them and was so warm in his conversation. While they were at the temple, my friend and I heated up the breakfast burritos we had pre-made for our camping trip in the microwaves in our rooms and prayed and waited. When they returned all smiles, we rejoiced, ate our burritos and hit the road back to Lake Isabella. In the van, we excitedly recounted the previous day’s events. We were in awe that EVERYTHING was still in the purse. We knew that the monks would not take anything, but we didn’t know about other tourists traveling through. We were all so thankful — especially when we realized that the prayers of three Christians, three Muslims, and a Hindu had been answered about a purse at a Buddhist Temple. Only in America. Only in America would five traditions converge in the middle of a desert on a camping trip. Only in America. This is what makes America great. This is a reason to be patriotic.