Friday, July 07, 2006

The universal ache

The first time I noticed it was probably driving along the Pacific Coast Highway of California, near Big Sur. I'd come over a hill and seen this absolutely breathtaking view of the coastline, with verdant green grass, impossibly black-blue water, fantastic rocks jutting out into the sea, and crashing waves. It was so beautiful it... hurt. It didn't hurt, exactly, but it wasn't only pleasant - it made me ache. But ache for what? And why an ache? I've never understood it.
I'm bringing it up now because that bitter/sweet ache reminds me of the feelings I have for my Grandmother who just died. In spite of missing her, it's not only unpleasant. It's sweet and warm and tender and vulnerable in the best possible way. It can't be placed on the scale of pleasant or unpleasant - it's on the scale of love. I'm reminded of a fragment of that definition of compassion - "a quivering of the heart." Unlike the song lyric, love doesn't hurt. You may hurt when you dare to love, but it's not the love that's painful; it's the baggage that comes along for the ride. In expansive moments of connection with the "other," whether it's Grams or the ocean, and you feel that ache - it's like love recognising itself.
I've been really moved by all the kind things people wrote in response to my last message. They wrote of memories of their own grandparents, and what it meant for them when they passed. We're really not alone in this. Thank you all for reminding me of that.
Too much love,
p.s. I'm 50 today! But I don't know which part of me is 50. I'm still looking - and I'll let you know.
I don't have a photo of my Grandma with me, so I chose some other beautiful Grandma's to stand in her place. The photo below includes a leper, a tea picker, a Tibetan - and a whole lot of Grandma love.
(The End)

Thursday, July 06, 2006

My Grams

I remember when I was 10 years old listening to another kid say he hated his grandmother. Your grandmother?! How could you hate your Grams? He clearly had a different Grams than I did. I'd always loved mine (both of them, back then), and couldn't imagine it any other way. When my maternal Grams came to visit us in Chicago, I remember sitting in the back seat of the car, racking my brain for things I could tell her. I blurted out, "Grams! Did you notice how the yellow stoplights aren't as long here?" - something I'd heard my Mom say. I was desperate to share what I knew, which wasn't much. (Some things don't change - I'm still desperate to share, which accounts for these newsletters. And I still don't know much.)
We didn't see Grams that often back in those days, living in Venezuela for two years, followed by Chicago for another two. But I knew that she'd always be around, and we could count on her famous fudge and divinity at Christmas. I don't think I really started appreciating my Grams until I was in my late 20's or early 30's, for some reason. Back in the days of expensive phone calls ("Hurry up! It's Long Distance!!") I would call Grams when I was going through the L.A. airports. It started a new type of relationship, and became a pattern for us for the next 20 years. I'd say, "Granma, it's your lovely and loving grandson, Dave."  And she'd say, "Well, hello dear!" We didn't say that much, or need to, but I loved those phone calls.
In 2000 I sort of spontaneously called both my Mom and my Grams from India and told them that the three of us were going on a cruise to Alaska. They had identical responses: "Oh, that sounds fun. We'll have to think about that!" No, we're not thinking about that - we're doing that. Grams was treated like a queen on the ship, and when our waiter wanted to help her cut her steak, she tried to resist, but not very hard. After forty-some years of Grams doing things for me, it was maybe the only thing I ever did for her. At least, it was the only one that cost money.
And I've lost the chance to do anything else for Grams. She died today, at the age of 96. I really love my Grams. This really isn't about me, but who's gonna say "Hello, dear!" to me on the phone now? I'm so happy that she was a part of my life for such a long time. I'm really going to miss her. And I can't adequately express it...
More love:
(The End)

Monday, July 03, 2006

Fifteen minutes in Bhutan

You may have heard that travel to the tiny monarchy of Bhutan is strictly controlled. It's done in a painful way for cheap bastards like me - it costs $200 per day to visit, whether you're climbing a mountain or watching CNN in your hotel. You can imagine how excited Jennifer and I were when we read in our guidebook that you could get a day pass to the Bhutanese town of Phuntsholing, just over the Indian border. So the same day our 21-hour train arrived in the Darjeeling area, we took a 3-1/2 hour bus ride to the grimy Indian border town of Jaigon. It's next to Bhutan! And after that hot bus ride, you could imagine our disappointment when we found out that the one-day free-permit scheme ended two years ago. So we pleaded our case to the very kind border guard inside, get this, the border of Bhutan! I thought we were doing well, until he said, "If I came to your country, I would need a visa, yes?" Oh, that was a brutal shot across the bow. And an effective one - we slunk away, trying to make the best of our grimy Indian border town, clearly not in Bhutan.


There are eight photos below:

A young monk in a monastery.

The security guard at a bank.

I'm afraid a photo doesn't capture this delightful kid's personality. He was a charmer.

Some of the gates in this town literally opened into the Bhutanese town on the other side of the international border. Locals were free to cross back and forth.

Beautiful eyes.

Shy and retiring, Jennifer tries her best to blend in with the locals from the slum. She led the group in a spirited letter-by-letter recitation of the alphabet, which seemed to suit everyone, including the adults in the background.

A self-portrait, but the little rodents insisted on being in MY picture! Jennifer and I had SO much fun with these kids! In spite of moments like these, Jennifer's five months in India had to come to an end and she's back home in the States now.

A lovely young girl at the border town.

(The End)