A Chant to Soothe Wild Elephants, by Jaed Coffin

Location: Ms. Tripp's Office

Grayson O'Connor
Hope Saulter
Ryan Tyler
Kellen Thompson
Shenaugh Tripp

Emma Steinbach
Alternate Ending Chapter
I sat in the airport and thought about Lek. Everywhere I looked, I saw something that made me think of her. The Thai writing on the wall made me wish I could hear her speak once more. The children playing on the fake leather seats next to me reminded me of the way the children crawled over her, always laughing and smiling. I knew that for part of me, no matter how small of a part, I was making the right choice. I would go back to finish school, get a job and find an American wife. We would visit my mother on holidays and long weekends, and life would be fine. But every thought of happy American life was grayed by thoughts of Lek. What if I stayed? What would be wrong with that? Or, a small possibility, what if she came with me? Her English isn’t bad and she could teach our children Thai.
My decision wasn’t fully made, but I knew I couldn’t get on the plane. I exited the airport and got a cab ride back to Panomsarakram. My mother would be worried, but I would call her when I got to the nearest phone. The scenery raced by, the same as my first ride from the airport to Panomsarakram almost 3 months prior. But this time what I felt was something completely different. I no longer had feelings of nervousness and doubt that grew with every mile closer. This time I was sure of my decision, although just as the months before, I was unsure of what would come from it.
I found Lek quickly, making food in the kitchen with a woman I recognized from the day I became a monk. Those part of the farewell group from that morning had all gone back to sleep since I had left, and were now just eating breakfast. My feelings of confidence that I had made the right choice were reaffirmed as soon as I saw Lek. I was still not sure how she would do in America. But her heart reminded me of the Maine woods, calm, big and beautiful. I knew she would enjoy her time there, even if it were brief, and that small amount of time would give me more time to think about what it was I should do with the rest of my life. The combination of shock, confusion, joy, and sleep still in her eyes gave me that last nudge and feeling that I couldn’t wait any longer to grab her and ask her to join me. I took her hand and lead her outside. The streets were now coming alive, and people who knew I was meant to leave that morning stared as though the answer as to why I hadn’t was written on my bald head. I looked to Lek, who was asking repeatedly why I was still here and what I was doing. I had no way to answer but to ask another question. “Come with me?” I said to her in Thai. She seemed stunned. “Come with me to Maine.” I said pulling her closer. She mumbled under her breath in Thai, far too quick for me to understand. She looked up at me, looking helpless but hopeful. “Yes.” She whispered in clear English.

Ryan Tyler
Additional Scene - Jaed is having a dialogue with himself.
I decided to take a walk around the temple grounds. It had been a long and hot day, and I figured I could use the down time. My mind is plagued by confusion. I still wonder what I am doing here; I still don’t know who I am. I know I came to fulfill Koondtha’s wish of becoming a Buddhist monk, but I still feel lost. I often think about him, and the first time I met him. I felt I still can’t look in the mirror and understand. Am I Thai and half white? Or am I white and half Thai? It didn’t make sense to me. I have been here for a while and I am still thinking about why I came here in the first place. I know I must go back to the US, so am I wasting time here? Maybe he is the reason for staying here. It’s all confusing when I think about it. I find if I just go about my day and not worry about it, I tend to be more relaxed. I hope that one day I know the answers, but then again, maybe I don’t. Becoming a monk has only helped me understand the Thai culture and my heritage. Maybe these are some things to expect when immersing yourself into a foreign cultural. I decided to go speak with Narong, maybe he can comfort me.

Kellen Thompson
The Attitude of an American Traveler
Tom, I can’t believe you haven’t finished the summer reading yet! We’re going to have our book discussion in like two weeks!
Sorry dude, I just can’t seem to get into it.
Well you better “get into to it.” We have to work on moderating this together.
Sorry, I was going through it pretty fast at first, but I got sick of the author by the middle.
Sick of the author?
Yeah, it was like he wasn’t even trying to fit in with everyone else.
Well, wasn’t that the point? Jaed Coffin didn’t really go to Thailand to become a monk; it was more about how he was trying to figure out who he was. I mean there wasn’t really any other Thai people in Brunswick, so he must have felt like an outsider.
I get that that was why he went to the country, but it’s like he didn’t even try to be respectful to the other monks. When they went to the forest temple he couldn’t just accept Narong’s beliefs about traveling through time and space during meditation. I don’t think the three monks living at the temple believed what he was saying on a physical level either, but they were respectful and listened to him. Jaed was the only one who had to say “something that would knock him down a peg or two”, I think he actually said that.
I agree that it was a little petty of him, but you have to take into consideration what he’s going through. The whole trip he was trying to validate his reason for being there. Deep down I think he knew that he hadn’t really gone there to be a monk, and the way he writes about talking loudly in Thai and trying to look serious showed that he was worried that everyone else would see that he wasn’t serious about what he was doing.
Well, he wasn’t really serious about it.
Yeah, I know but I think at the time he had convinced himself that that was why he was there. So when he had to be around other monks like Narong who didn’t have any uncertainties in their faith I think it started to get to him, like it made him feel that he wasn’t as authentic of a monk.
It wasn’t just the other monks though. Jaed had to give his opinion about everything to everyone. Near the end there’s those two stories about the kid named Go and the man who wanted to open a 7 Eleven in America. He didn’t -
I think he was just worried about the 7 Eleven guy, kind of like with Narong wanting to live in a cave.
Yeah, but it was the guy’s dream! And he just completely crushed it. He was totally abusing his position as a monk too. He could’ve just told him that it would be hard to live there, but instead he had to go and say how “it was against his karma” so he wouldn’t continue with it.
Okay, Okay he went a little too far there. But he was just trying to help him. Jaed already knows what it’s like to be an outsider. And with Go it was totally the same situation as with the monks. Seeing this rich Thai kid who thinks it’s funny that anyone would want to go to Thailand to be a monk, must have made him look at why he was there a little harder.
I guess those are good points. I just think that he should have gone just to live in Thailand.
You should keep reading the end gets more into that with the time he spends with Lek. He sort of realizes how he doesn’t really fit in in Thailand either.
Alright, I’ll keep reading. Thanks, I think I’ll be able to tolerate the author a little more if I take what you said into account.

Starting Questions:
What did you think of the book?What was Jaed's purpose?
Do you think he achieved his purpose in Thailand?
What does it mean to have an “unsure heart”?
How do you think Jaed’s experiences in Thailand changed his views?
Do you think Jaed needs to be a monk in order to achieve his purpose in Thailand?
Which Buddhist philosophies did you agree or disagree with?
Which passages of the book made an impact on you?
Would you change the order of events that Jaed experiences if it were you in his shoes?

Run through Characters:
Jaed’s mother
KoondthaJaed's Father

Cultural identity
Open Discussion:
Compare/Contrast two characters
Does the style of the book and writing match its message? How?
What did the book make you think about your own life?
Pick a passage you liked or disliked. Explain why.
Look at the opening sentence and closing sentence. Discuss.
Did Jaed make a good decision in leaving Thailand to finish college?

Ending Questions:
Did you hear any comments that made you think about your book in a new or different way?
Do you have any unanswered questions about the book?
Would you like to have heard more at the ending or was it complete enough?Were there any lessons learned?