Monday, March 31, 2008

The Glutes are Ready

As the final week before departure approaches, I’ve been imagining two months of life mostly in tents or tea houses with suspect toilets in areas about which I have no concept except for what the camera has captured in books or for television documentaries. There are stories, dramas in particular, about death and divinity in lands exotic and daring where extreme adventurers and mountain climbers shackle themselves with the worst form of celebrity. But I have no doubt that my own adventure has been laid out to give me a chance to know something completely outside my comfort zone and experience. Oh, I’ve been in these situations before - traveling alone at 22 for three months in emerging Africa of 1962, then living twenty glorious years in Uruguay in a fragile period after the military dictatorship, and even those many family pack trips we took on horseback through the Green River Range in Wyoming when I was an under-teen. So, I have no doubt about dealing with the conditions of a new challenge and I have no doubt I’ll end the pilgrimage to Nepal, Tibet, and Bhutan with a more solid spirit. I only wonder how I will handle the rearrangement of my daily routine whether I’m 12 or 18 thousand feet in high air deep breathing like a maniac, dressed in layers of the latest sweat absorbing underwear, wool socks and the latest in rain jackets, swigging boiled water from a fancy nipple and nurturing blisters in what had been my favorite hiking shoes. Can it still be fun, or even better funny? Funny is filling fifty-nine baggies with homemade gorp and figuring out how pack them along with extra camera and computer batteries fully charged, two Ken Follett epics, enough writing pads for a novel and enough La Mer face cream to keep more wrinkles at bay.

And this body which surprises me: can I will it on beyond anything I’d ask it to do here at home? Are the abs, calves, glutes and guts ready for what I must ask them to do? Sometimes I can’t even will it to go out on a sunny day and walk along the flooding Mississippi River. Sometimes I can’t even will it to go one more mile to stop at the grocery. And all the while I wonder, after recent events, if the medics opened up my core would they find disease raging skin wall to skin wall, sneaking in to devour the organs that keep me functioning, bringing me into an incapacitated capacity. Am I dying or living? Do I want to know? No. The point is to blur out the pains and aches that accompany asking extreme effort from the body, and to put in their place the joy of being where I am. My hope is to test waters of new communities, new architecture, new friends, new cultures such as Sherpas and Buddhist monks and to write about it. I wonder where women fit in and how they are addressed. Are they artists, priests, independent? If so many young boys become monks, what happens to young girls? Can they seek holiness and enlightenment, too?

As I review the detailed itinerary that’ll push me into unfamiliar places and experiences, I realize I’ll be come a slave to sleeping bags, to hiking skirts (which are better to urinate under in public places,) to rice and yak butter and peeled fruit, to sponge baths and adjustable walking sticks, to forgetting about who I’ve been in order to find out who I am now. I do not cower one bit. I know it will be two months without television, cell phone instant information, ice, frappachino, my old loyal Escape, and experiencing live my grandchildren’s accomplishments. In these last days I delighted in a four year old’s birthday tea party, a 20 year old’s presentation as Queen of a social ball for which the entire family congregated, and a bronze of my face being hung forever in Juvenile Court’s halls for winning the Jefferson Award 2007. But what happens next, I have only dreams, only hopes. At least I’ll spend two months not waking up to television breaking news of murder, shootings, fantastical political diatribes and racism, and watching confused and disturbed young people lose their way through adolescence. I want to be proud of my home town. But flowers are dying before the buds open. Can I find answers in the foothills of Mt. Everest or the sacred lake Manasarovar where a dip in its waters will release all my sins of one hundred births? One round of the three day Mt. Kailas pilgrimage as well guarantees all sins are forgiven. Can I do it for Memphis?

I’m curious about how I’ll entertain myself with only 14 hours of computer battery life for 18 hours on a flight across the Pacific, and what will be my first impression of Kathmandu, Nepal, basically the umbilical chord of the trip, treks beginning and ending and resupplying there. Not one to falter in high altitudes, I know this is a different set of mountains and no matter how fit or skilled a trekker might be, (and I’m proud I’ve kept up the training since August), what happened yesterday isn’t always true tomorrow. But my guide Jim will make sure we go at the right pace with plenty of time allotted for altitude acclimatization.

I long to be surrounded in the red of a new fabric, the tastes of spices I’ve never smelled, the sounds of prayer and prayer wheels, the vibes of new religions that only confirm the strength, love and grace the God of my faith allows me. If we are able to make the kora (pilgrimage) around Mt. Kailas in Tibet (that comes in May), I will go, fingering my Episcopal prayer beads, on the knees of a penitent Christian, allowing the robes of the Holy Spirit to fall like honey poured over my head. I carry with delight and honor the many prayer flags made by teens of Calvary Episcopal Church, by Mrs. Rodriguez first grade class in Nashville, by the animal saint Louise of Jackson Hole and by delinquent young ladies in a prison facility for which I am chaplain. As I drape these flags on sacred poles along the different treks, I’ll know that our prayers will blow with just as much verve and song as those in Tibetan prayer flags to the ears of God. And that will give Him delight and me peace.

Photos: Blessing the prayer flags at Calvary, Angela lets me hang in Pilates Class; a tea party for four-year-olds with gloves; Judge Person hangs my bronze portrait in Juvenile Court; My girls in detention make prayer flags.

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