THE SINCERE HEART
Andrea Paras, 34, Toronto
When Andrea Paras decided to spend the summer of 2012 trekking the Himalayas, solitude was on her mind. It had been a rough year. A native Canadian, she and her partner had uprooted to teach abroad. But a coup at the Asian university where they both taught unwound her five-year plan, and ended her relationship.
She walked for 50 days, and then took a bus to volunteer at Dharamsala, home to a community of Tibetan refugees, including the Dalai Lama. “It was a chance to focus on the idea that there were bigger problems in the world than my bruised heart.”
After teaching her first English conversation class, a student named Phuntsok invited her for thukpa, a traditional Tibetan soup.
During the meal she learned that Phuntsok was a former monk who had walked over the mountains as a teen to be closer to the Dalai Lama. He’d left the monastery ten years earlier, and had since worked various jobs in various fields, from Goa to Darjeeling.
“I just knew right away,” Andy says. “I had never had this clarity about anything. It was this sense that there was absolutely no guile. In dating situations, there are so many masks and games we play. But the way he behaved was absolutely sincere.” In fact, it freed her. “I could have given into all these thoughts and fears, but I didn’t. I trusted my instincts.”
Andy returned to Canada, but the two spoke everyday, with Andy periodically flying to India. In December 2012, they married, but it wasn’t until this spring that Phuntsok’s papers came through so he could join her in Canada.
“It wasn’t easy,” Andy says of withstanding time, geography, vastly different cultures, a skeptical grandmother, and some serious arguments. “Sometimes, I think, wow, that was such a ballsy move. But I’ve never regretted it. It was like, ‘Let’s just get on with it. Because I want to spend my life with you.’”