October 29, 2007—Sitting at around 32,000 feet somewhere over the middle of this vast land, both strange and familiar. Should be in Newark in about four hours. Five hour layover, then board a big Continental jet—something so large should never leave the ground, it seems to me, and, I think, to the small children who, inevitably shriek when the wheels part from the tarmac on every flight I’ve ever taken—for Delhi, where I should touch down at around 8 pm IST on Halloween eve.
Spent the past 2 days in Queen Anne with Adrienne. Watched “In the Shadow of the Moon” on Sunday night, a fine, fine movie. Couldn’t take my eyes off the screen, then couldn’t stop thinking about it. To think that there are men walking on the Earth today who have walked on the Moon and to think that in just over 24 hours I’ll be walking in the popping blinking flurry of noisy dirty bright explosively alive Delhi.
At the end of “In the Shadow of the Moon,” each astronaut interviewed who’d visited the Moon described his complete transformation as a result of that experience and the sight of lovely, fragile Earth, their home, our home, hanging in the blackness of it all.
In short, they described the experience of the traveler: transformation, spiritual enlargement, a new view of an old home, beauty beyond words.
Brought with me on this trip, my second to Rajasthan in just over a year, “The Adventures of Augie March.” Last year’s trip, I read Pete Dexter’s “Deadwood,” which I found at Twice Sold Tales in Queen Anne, and which I’d never before read. I wanted a uniquely American book to read on the plane and on the trains slamming and clambering their way across the Great Bikaner Desert and “Deadwood” proved to be just that.
I thought that “Augie” would serve the same function. The flight from Seattle—where I’m writing this—is sparely peopled, and I’m able to have 3 seats to myself, to stretch out, nest, a feeling I won’t have (if my limited experience from last year’s trip is any indication) on the 14-plus hour flight from Newark to Delhi.
But right now, lots of room, cold water to drink, snacks, Sonny Rollins and Brian Eno on the tunes (from Gary’s collection) and a near cloudless sky below me.
How sad I am at leaving my wife, and how sad sometimes I get when I look at her and know that there will one day be a time when one of us—most likely me—will not be alive to share one more moment together. I don’t know that I fear death…most of the time I don’t, but I fear the idea that should I die first—again, the most likely scenario—I will leave behind the woman I love most dear with a grief I will not be there to share.
I have my pocket journal and hope to keep something approximating useful notes. I thought, when I first began carrying a notebook years ago, that it would not only serve as a record of my days but also provide both the forum and the impetus to recall and write of those things that lurk just beneath the shallow, turbulent, utterly-selfish surface of my most pedestrian thoughts and which are keys to the self I am at this moment right now. Things like the fact that the sight of pale crimson persimmons at Blossom the other day reminded me of the skinny persimmon tree that perched on the house side of the ditch paralleling Lillian Highway between the Mackeys’ and our house, a tree that had a single, substantial limb perched out over the middle of the ditch and offering a drop that was just higher than any fall I would normally be comfortable taking, even as a small boy.
But I would take it anyway. How many times did I unclasp my hands and fall from that limb and why would I think of it now, at least 45 years later and more miles away than I can contemplate with any meaning?
What I do contemplate most often is my own narrow self, whether it’s my often and insistent need to pee or the contentions I bring against so many, whether a nameless stranger passing casually after tailgating me on I-5 or my boss. And am I open to what I’m getting out my job right now, a chance to be in the mauling packs of the beautifully exotic streets of Jaipur? Do I not fear that with my personality of emptiness, of mimicry, that I will someday—and possibly even someday very soon—wake up to find that I have become the nightmare that is _______________ (Boss’s name deleted from this entry.)? Of course I do!
But I am in a life right now with a beautiful, witty wife who loves me, people who seem to enjoy my company, and a home under the drooping cedars in a crowd of low salal, overrun with squirrels and deer and chipmunks and towhees and chickadees and nuthatches and crows and ravens and eagles.
And I am on my way to India again, to see, once again, dear friends and another world here on this lovely and fragile planet we all call home.
The other side of the world