It’s been nearly seven years since I traveled to a little place called India. I don’t think a day goes by that it doesn’t cross my mind. Many souvenirs returned home with me from that trip….bangles, tunics, carvings, blankets, memories….but mostly magic. Along with the parasite that snuck into my body, my soul seemed to be somehow altered somewhere between those misty mornings bouncing along the dirt roads in a jeep and those evenings where incense smoke twirled around my head. It was sort of my own magical mystery tour….
I fell in love with the wildlife of India…the monkeys roaming the big cities, peacocks parading along the roads, and the dancing cobras. Amazing. The ancient architecture and history was spectacular. The endless fields of golden grass and the rivers winding through them were breathtaking. But the people…oh the beautiful people..My heart grew with each genuine smile that was given so openly to me. In a country so poor and dirty and left for ruin in so many places, the people are so far from that. Despite sadness and poverty and sickness I have never experienced such true soul-filled happiness oosing from other humans as I did on this trip.
I want to be like the people I encountered. Filled to the brim with happiness so much it cannot be contained and I spills out to those around me. I long to return. I crave its mystery and peace. I yearn for India and her solace. I need it.
The trip consisted of many trains, planes, and automobiles. We spent over 24 hours in the air just to get there. Trains glided us past villages and rivers. Cars bounced us along the funnest, most pot hole filled roads in the world. Each time we got in the car we were guaranteed a wild ride. I sat in the jungle surrounded by badass monkeys. I wrote in my journal as a fox observed me from the foliage. I held a cobra. I touched Gandhi’s grave. I walked barefoot in the Taj Mahal. But, the thing that crept into my soul, my essence, my marrow…was this one woman…I don’t know her name and she didn’t speak a lick of English….but she was always there…watching me.
I am guessing she was about my age…34 at the time. I was told that she was the mother of four small children and had been widowed twice. Now a single mom, she struggled every day….every moment. Back in the day they used to burn widows. She is lucky to live in a slightly more progressive India.
I noticed her fascination with me one night following an event that I spoke at. It was a gathering for single women…mostly widowed and divorced. Both of these kinds of women extremely shunned and low in this absurd thing they call a caste system.That night I was very nervous…public speaking…even with an interpreter by my side…was terrifying. Give me a cobra to hold anytime! As I began I noticed the women were waving the smoke from the incense burning to keep mosquitoes away from their faces. The smoke seemed to gravitate to their eyes. My opening line, I believe, went like this….”Where I come from they say that smoke attracts beauty…I believe I must be surrounded by some of the most beautiful women in the world right now.” They loved it…I was an instant hit…and suddenly very comfortable up there in front of all of those strangers.
What I talked about that night still to this day gets me. The story, kind of a parable, I told was not only extremely relevant to these women but also applies today with so many people in my life right now, including myself.
I began with a question….
Holding up a crisp rupee (their form of currency) I asked if I offered it to them would they take it?
All those lovely faces smiled back up at me and bobbled their heads shoulder to shoulder in unison. (Heavenly.)
Of course they would take the free cash.
Then I crumpled up the money. I wadded it up. Unfolded it. Dropped it in the dirt at my feet and stepped on it over and over. Then i held it up again, not even dusting the grime and dirt off.
Again I asked if I offered it to them would they take it?
Again, the smiles and head bobbling.
But its dirty, and crinkled, and ugly???
Why would you want this???
A bit of confusion at first. I could see the questions in their eyes. Not sure where I was going with this. Then I added this statement:
Because it didn’t loose it’s value.
I went on to explain that we too are like this…no matter how wrinkled, crinkled, torn up, grimy or dirty we are we still haven’t lost our value. It will always be there no matter what.
That mysterious woman…she got it. I see her face now in my mind’s eye. To me she will always represent all of us out there who are beat down and torn apart on the inside as well as the outside. I see her face everywhere. I sense her when I talk to my dear friends who stumble on hard times. I feel her essence when I hear my own thoughts rattle through my head like that cobra I had wrapped around my throat that one amazing afternoon.
Our value will never be lost.
Even through the fires of life….smoke follows beauty.