Last week was the crappiest week of the crappiest crapfest of a year that I’ve had in an otherwise crap-free decade. Our rent check bounced, I received easily a dozen rejections for big and small projects, my husband lost hours at his already small job, I finally acknowledged to myself that I had been fired from an employer who simply never returned my phone calls, I had to tell my sons that we couldn’t afford to buy books from their school book order, I lost a bracelet that I had received as a gift the day before, I was unable to locate the source of a strange sweet smell in our kitchen, and the cat peed on my favorite chair. With no money in the bank, no savings, no credit cards, and our bankruptcy case looming -- I walked around the entire week in a daze, went to two bad movies that I can’t even remember because they were that bad, went to a free costume exhibit and felt better for five minutes because I don’t live in the 19th century and wear a corset, then sobbed for longer than I would have thought possible because I probably should wear a corset, and ate enough junk to gain five pounds. My husband and I are freelancers and in this economic environment, not only do we not know the color of our parachute, we’ve already started the free-fall without it.
I know that things are far worse for many other people. Our family of four still has a roof over our heads, we love each other, we’re healthy, and we live in a culture that could turn and be fiscally generous at any moment. That culture being Hollywood, where a good audition for my husband, Pat (who is an actor) or the right meeting for me (I’m a writer) could reverse our fortunes in a matter of days. We are, in many ways, truly fortunate people. I mean, come on, there are bombs that go off in public places in Gaza, diseases that can kill you in Africa, and starving people in India.
Which brings me to a salient point – we are going to India. My husband, Pat, my ten-year-old, Spencer, my six-year-old, Murphy, and I will be taking a thirty-three hour trip to New Delhi, in four weeks. A year ago, when our future looked much brighter, I bought the tickets to go visit my brother and his family who teach in an international school there. The tickets were purchased on the Cheap-O Air travel site for cash; $5700.00 to be exact. It turns out the Cheap-O Air is indeed cheapo in the world of prohibitively expensive international travel, and I remember congratulating myself for finding a rock-bottom price. Still, whenever Pat looks at our withered bank balance and remembers that we actually bought airline tickets for that large a sum, he has to take a nap. Whenever, I mention the shots we need to get, or the visas, or the few travel items we need to acquire, he gets pale and mumbles, “Again, why are we going to India?”
Of course, he knows why we’re going to India. I haven’t seen my brother’s family for a couple of years. My parents and my other brother’s family are meeting there for New Year’s, closing the year that my father turns eighty. I could sell articles about the trip. Visiting New Delhi seemed like a way to go on a far-flung, potentially profitable, adventure with low risk. My brother, Keir, and his family, live on an enclosed compound with western amenities. We could explore the city and its environs, while being able to retreat back to familiar ground whenever we needed a break.
Almost instantly after hitting the CONFIRM button on Cheap-O Air, committing to the non-refundable tickets, our financial circumstances and the nature of the trip changed. Sandwiched between my husband finding out that he would not be going back to a job we had counted on and a nightmare case of head lice that my son brought home from school, Keir e-mailed me to propose a ten-day backpacking tour that he would pay for, with just his family. Why of course, I eagerly replied, we would love to.
Keir is a retired army ranger. He recently went to the Sudan to swim with hammerhead sharks off the coast. His wife, Robyn, is a tall Australian woman who grew up on a farm, birthing calves and repairing tractors. Their four-year-old, daughter, Zoe, has grown up in the third world, camping in the Sahara and being pulled in a mini-trailer by her parents’ bikes through Indonesia.
The thumbnail sketch of my family is considerably different. We live in Hollywood, for God’s sake. Last Christmas, when we visited my parents in Madison, Wisconsin, it was snowy. Sparkly. Gorgeous. But every time we walked out of the door, my youngest, Murphy, grabbed my mittened hand and cried bitterly, “I want to go back to America.”
Again, why are we going to India? Originally, I didn’t want to miss a family vacation. I wanted to see my brother and safely explore a very different country and culture. I wanted my children to see how other people live. And what the heck, we could afford it.
A year later, the trip is no longer a simple visit to see family in a foreign land. It is the spectacular end to a brutal year. Today, when Pat suggested that we should simply stay home and throw ourselves on the mercy of Cheap O Air to get some kind of petty, partial refund, I said that maybe this trip was being cosmically handed to us, “Instead of simply going as tourists, why shouldn’t we look for personal transformation? Why not hope for answers about how we created this crappy year and how we can prevent another? Why not leave ourselves open to spiritual enlightenment? If we’re free-falling, why not land in India? Maybe it’s THE perfect place for us to be right now.”
“You sound like you think we can EAT PRAY LOVE our way out of our current situation,” he replied. Normally, I love the fact that Pat can verb almost anything, but this was a total mischaracterization of my proposal.
“I’m not saying that we’re anything like EAT PRAY LOVE,” I shot back. “We’re not single, funded, childless, with a dazzling smile and a mole in just the right place.”
“OK,” said Pat. “You’re talking about the movie. I was referring to the book, which I assume was more meaty.”
“Look,” I said, “I don’t give a fig about the movie or the book. I’m talking about us and what we could potentially learn from a trip to a country that has a vigorous spiritual identity.”
“Did you say, ‘fig’?”
“I thought of it when I was at the costume exhibit. I want to swear less. Yesterday, Murphy said ‘Holy freakin’ balls’.”
“Already starting your transformation?”
“Got to start somewhere.”
Pat thought for a moment and smiled wanly, “By the way. Something we didn’t anticipate.”
“Oh no. The crappy week is over.”
“The visas are going to cost five hundred and fifty dollars.”
|Murphy wanting to go back to America|