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"Canada can, within a positive friendly atmosphere, ask the Chinese government to resolve the Tibetan situation."

Daja Meston, 39; Buddhist peace hid his inner struggles

August 5, 2010

By Bryan Marquard
The Boston Globe
August 1, 2010

Daja Meston had a giggle that called to mind the
Dalai Lama, and his voice blended accents from so
many languages that his words seem to sound a melody of peace.

When customers and friends stopped by Karma, the
Newton fair-trade crafts shop he ran with his
wife, Mr. Meston invited them to sit and sip a
cup of tea. Some called him Wangchuk, a name
bestowed on him when he was ordained a Buddhist monk as a young boy in Nepal.

"Frankly, his giggle was something I was jealous
of,’’ said his friend Patrick Curley, a lawyer in
Lynnfield. "I know that laughter and giggling and
levity are the spirit of life. It’s what we need
and what we all crave. Wangchuk had it and it was natural and graceful."

Beneath the grace and the giggles, though, Mr.
Meston struggled with depression and the details
of a life that was both extraordinary and
extraordinarily difficult. More than a decade
ago, he was arrested by authorities while
conducting research in China. Held captive and
subjected to harsh interrogations, he jumped out
a third-story window and expected to die, but did not.

Two years ago, he published "Comes the Peace: My
Journey to Forgiveness," telling the Globe that
with his memoir he hoped to "transcend and
transform the difficult experiences I had had by writing about them."

On July 11, Mr. Meston took his life at his Weston home. He was 39.

"My husband was an incredible human being,’’ said
his wife, Phuntsok Dolma. "He had an incredible
capacity to love and have empathy for people --
he knew how to be in someone else’s shoes.
Perhaps because of this he always felt everybody’s suffering."

He also was a rarity in an age when many people
sample cultures as if pulling spices off a store
shelf, sprinkling the flavors of other traditions
on their own lives. An American citizen who was
raised in Nepal, Mr. Meston learned Eastern ways
as a native. As a child, he spoke Tibetan and
Nepali more fluently than English. As an adult in
the Boston area, his background left him with a
foot in both worlds, never fully residing in either.

"I think his book is maybe the most poignant and
powerful discussion of what the cost can be of
the Western aspiration to be cross-cultural, to
exchange our culture for another," said Robert
Barnett, who directs the Modern Tibetan Studies
Program at Columbia University in New York. "I
think his book raises this issue quietly through his experience."

Among those who encouraged Mr. Meston to write
about his life was his friend Jessica Lipnack of West Newton.

"I think the writing of the book was absolutely
cathartic," she said. "He was getting stuff out,
and the writing allowed him to look at something
that was excruciatingly painful."

Mr. Meston was born in Switzerland in 1970 while
his parents were crossing Europe in a camper van,
guided by the era’s hippie ethos. His mother,
Feather Meston, and his father, Larry Greenberg,
an artist who changed his last name to Greeneye,
brought him as a toddler to the Tibetan exile community in northern India.

There, he later wrote, his father suffered a
mental breakdown and returned to the United
States. His mother became a Buddhist nun and sent
young Daja to live with a Tibetan family in
Kathmandu, Nepal, where he was ordained a
Buddhist monk. His name was changed from Daja
Mizu Greeneye to Thubten Wangchuk. As a white
American, however, he was teased mercilessly,
though he barely spoke English and was years from
grasping that he also had Jewish heritage.

"Six to 16, my formative years, were a constant
struggle to fend off attacks, taunts,
name-calling,’’ he told the Globe in 2007. "I
developed a sense of unworthiness and discomfort
with my own color, a sense that there was
something fundamentally wrong with me."

By his mid-teens he wanted out and traveled to
Italy and then to California to live among his
mother’s relatives, who included his grandfather
John Meston, a writer and co-creator of the TV series "Gunsmoke."

He moved to Boston and met Phuntsok Dolma, a
Tibetan refugee. When they married in 1990, he
began using his mother’s maiden name, Meston. The
couple was in the process of adopting Jasmine, a
Tibetan baby who had been living with them for the past six months.

"He is and was my only teacher in my life," his
wife said. "He taught me to see beyond what’s in
front of your face, to see past the superficial
to find the humanity in each person.
Unfortunately, there is so much suffering out there."

Said Lipnack: "People who loved him so very much knew that he was suffering."’

And yet, Mr. Meston did not readily share his own pain.

"He was defined by two clear characteristics,"
Barnett said. "One was quietness. He was a most
unobtrusive person, a person who waited. The
second was humor. He was a funny person, and his
inclination was to find the pleasantly humorous
side of things. He made small, little jokes,
little comments that would make things lighter
and help you see the pleasure of the situation. It was very subtle.’’

Mr. Meston graduated from Brandeis University and
began working as a translator and interpreter,
including on one trip to Tibet with a journalist
and another with a congressman. In 1999, during a
trip to assess a Chinese relocation plan, he was
arrested and suffered severe injuries in the
plunge from the third-story window.

"Blinded by the blistering sun, I took what I
thought would be my final step," he said in his
book, which he wrote with the journalist Clare
Ansberry. "Unbeknownst to me at the time, my jump
that hot August afternoon marked the beginning of another journey."

It was a step back toward Boston, toward running
the store, toward writing his memoir. It also was
a step toward healing the rift between him and
his father in California and his mother in Washington state.

His journey, visible in everyday actions,
inspired those who became part of his life.

"He taught me about living in the moment," Curley
said. "He taught me about enjoying simple things.
He could sit outside and look at the sun shining
through the leaves of a tree and find joy in it.
Here I am, a busy lawyer. Whenever I was with
Wangchuk, I felt peace and serenity just being in his presence.’’

Family and friends will gather to celebrate his
life and writing at 3 p.m. today at 10 Twin Pond Lane in Lincoln.

In the 2007 interview with the Globe when "Comes
the Peace" was published, Mr. Meston seemed to
have momentarily reached a point where he could
try to make sense of all that had transpired.

"The gift of all this is the piecing together for
myself, and getting to a place where I am
comfortable, whether it’s understanding my fears,
or understanding my parents and all the
contradictions, and saying, ‘That is life.’ Life is a messy business."

Bryan Marquard can be reached at bmarquard@globe.com
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665   ctcoffice@tibet.ca
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