A couple of evenings ago, Spencer asked me to proofread a story he was writing for class. For a parent who is a writer, this is tantamount to a baseball player’s son asking him to have a catch. I had to squeeze my eyes shut to stop the tears from trickling down my cheeks and stifle the urge to envelope him in a suffocating embrace while mewing, “Yes, my boy. I will be your inspiration.”
Pulling it together, I reviewed his piece, which was nothing short of a fifth grade masterpiece. I did, however, have one quibble. Why, I asked him, did he interrupt the conversation in a scene with a break filled with a line of asterisks, only to pick up at the next line of dialogue?
“It’s a cliffhanger, Mom,” he said, his voice dripping with the annoyance of having to state the obvious.
“Ah, yes. I see,” I said. I decided against pointing out that he had artificially created the cliffhanger. After all, maybe he’ll write for Hollywood and the skill will come in handy.
Taking a cue from my son, here’s my cliffhanger:
We are leaving for India tonight at midnight. So far, what has generated the most excitement about the trip for the children is the fifteen-hour flight to Hong Kong. Normally, I ‘m not liberal with television and the computer, but on the flight they will each have their own television and gaming system. Their excitement over uncontested screen time is that of drowning men seeing a distant shore.
Backpacking and traveling on a shoestring holds surprises in any country, India being no exception. Keir and Robyn have told us to bring clean sheets since some of the budget hotels might not have clean ones. It is possible that in some places, we will be bathing out of buckets. I have always found this kind of traveling exciting. It requires one to be present, adaptable, and I tend to find that I get a feel for a country and its people beyond what I see in the splashy pages of any tourist brochure. But it will all be new for the children. Will the boys who can barely contain their excitement about private televisions on the plane be as adaptable and appreciative as I hope?
What are my finicky eaters going to eat?
Will the experience of watching families cremate their loved ones on the Ghats of the Ganges be spiritually memorable for the boys – or will it generate years of freaky dreams they cannot shake?
What are they going to eat?
Will my broken toe continue to be an infuriating and painful impediment or will my travels through a multi-layered culture give it context in a “blessings of a skinned knee” kind of way? Here’s hoping.
Will Pat be able to let go of adding up how much this is all costing us?
Friends who have been to India tell us that there’s no place like it on earth. The food is spectacular, the colors are intense, the people generous, the architecture and the arts stunning, and the poverty overwhelming. With a booming national economy, I understand that there is also great wealth and technological advancement. This is all second hand, of course. Now we will get to see it for ourselves.
Our bags are jammed full of presents for our family and Santa’s bounty is flying with us. In our usual disorganized manner, we have attempted to anticipate much of what we will need. We are bringing antibiotics even though Keir wrote us that they are “for sissies.” It is a moniker I can’t entirely refute.
Am I hoping for a spiritual reboot? Of course. I’m sure that being amongst a people that are well known to focus on spiritual practice and philosophy cannot help but inspire me. But I have always found travel, and simply jiggling oneself out of the everyday, brings a wealth of insights that are overlooked otherwise. In this particular case, however – given the crappy year and the extent of our travels – the jiggle is more of a seismic shift.
Back to the cliffhanger.
When I was growing up, my mother took me to generally protestant churches on military bases throughout Germany and England. My mother could not be described as a classic Christian, having pronounced very early that she wasn’t that interested in going to heaven if none of her friends would be there. She did, however, want us to have religious and spiritual grounding. She told me that she didn’t care what I ultimately believed, but she did think hope that I believed in something. “When you are hanging off of a cliff," she said, "I want you to believe in something that helps you hang on.”
I have spent many years in pursuit of a God or a philosophy or a spiritual practice that will keep me hanging on. This endeavor has met with moderate success. I am a seeker who has managed to hang on.
Today, the day of my departure, I am thinking of my trip to India with the people that I love. We have barely any money, few job prospects when we return, no savings, and no plans. As I hang off of that cliff, it occurs to me that instead of hanging on, I should let go.