Ancient Egyptians believed that upon death they would be asked two questions and their answers would determine whether they could continue their journey in the afterlife.  
The first question was, "Did you bring joy?"  
The second was, "Did you find joy?"

Monday, March 28, 2011

Soul Food

Somedays it's simply hard to get out of a funk.  Despite the fact that today was cool, thanks to the extended thunderstorms that swept through the area late into last night, I couldn't shake a certain sadness for the life of me.

Actually, I think it was the weather that set me off.

I know, I know....geez, what makes this girl happy?  She gets edgy and cranky in the hot weather, she is sad in cool weather.....

Today was perfect weather.  It was Seattle in August weather.  It was gentle and just the right amount of warm.  It made me slightly homesick.  But mostly, it made me feel the conflict I have about leaving Santiniketan (and eventually India) even more acutely.

Traveling is soul food for me.  I get that.  I learn the most and feel most alive when I am out in the wide world soaking in new adventures.  But, I am also a nester.  I need a home-base, a place to to return to.  So, even though I crave travel and getting out and exploring the planet and different cultures, I've always known and felt drawn to eventually return to my cozy spot in Seattle.

This trip is different.  For the first time I don't know what it is that I am going home to.

Wait.  Wait.  Don't get me house, my friends, my family, ALL are just as rich in soul nutrients as traveling and I miss so many incredible people that I cannot wait to see in just over a month.

It's just that, today anyway, the reality that at 41 I don't have a family of my own, a partner waiting for me, a career that is sitting patiently but anxiously counting the days till I come home, has really hit me in the gut.

Here, in India, in this town I'd never even heard of 6 weeks ago, in a part of the country I'd vowed not to go near, I can see a need, a purpose for being here.  There are people, like Chandana, that I could work with to help other people live better, healthier lives.

But could I really leave the safety and security of my beautiful house and my network of friends and family so far away?  Could I abandon the opportunity to act in Seattle on a more regular basis with a community that I respect and look forward to playing with whenever the chances arrive?  I have, after all, spent almost 15 years paving that particular road.  Could I handle the upheaval that moving to the other side of the globe would entail?  Would I want to, even if I could?

These questions started to consume me today, so I did the only sensible thing: I took a nap.  With the sense of an impending spiral into depression still looming when I awoke, I decided to go for a bike ride.  Once on the bike, I made up my mind to cross the safety barrier of the Santiniketan wall  and to go into the village just on the other side.

Here I was almost consumed by something else entirely: joy.  Everyone wanted to say hello.  I even ran into a few students of Antaranga School who live over there.  I pulled the camera out and was virtually mobbed.

People started coming out of the woodwork and fairly demanding that I take their pictures, though you'd think I'd forced them to stand still and pose based on the expression they offered to the camera.

Parents insisted that I take their children's photos.  Things were happening so fast and I was surrounded by so many people, hands everywhere...on me...on my and out of the frame...that looking at the pictures I am struck by how many other interesting things ALMOST got captured on the camera, like the kid with his hands on his hips in this one.

I wish I knew the Bengali word for "goofball."

And, below, is my all time favorite kid portrait, ever.  I take no credit.  Like I said, things were happing so fast, people were in and out of my field of vision in a flash.  This was completely the luck of the draw.

It was also pure chance that the last house on the village road turned out to belong to one of my favorite kids from the evening school at Antaranga and he was home and his family invited me onto the porch for tea. They gave me the seat of honor, which is to say, they gave me the only chair and the extended family and friends from all around came and sat on a mat on the floor.  It was just sunset, so too dark to take pictures.  So, just imagine a very small space with 4 or 5 women with 6 or seven toddlers, the young man from the school, and in the only other chair that appeared out of nowhere, a woman who had to be 200 years old if she was a day.  Ok, she only looked it, but I wouldn't be surprised.

Just inside the door to their one room house I could see an elevated bed covered with clothes and below the bed a fresh crop of potatoes were being stored.  On the edge of the porch a woman lit a fire using dried leaves on the concrete floor and made tea which she thankfully got good and boiling before pouring it into cups.  I was offered the only serving with powdered milk and a large plate with more than my share of crackers.

Conversation was initially aimed in my direction.  Questions about wether I had children and if I was married came my way.  When they found out the answer to both inquiries was "No," they all gasped and decided that I would be a very good wife and mother.  A high compliment coming from that group.  Eventually, the women turned to village gossip or news and I was left to play with the kids, both human and goat, that ran around my feet.

At one point, my Antaranga student's grandmother, who was one of the most striking and elegant women I've ever seen with her long flowy grey hair and lithe limbs and natural ease in a sari, noticed my arm tattoos.  In fact, she was the second or third lady that day who had grabbed my arms and made pleased noises to find them tattooed.  It's a tribal custom here for the ladies to tattoo their forearms.  I think finding my arms to be tattooed helped me to be less foreign.

The tattoos are of identical design, the one on the left arm says, in french, "I am the gift", the one on the right says, again in french, "You are the gift."  I was struck by the admiration of the tattoos coming today of all days, because sitting on the porch of that tiny village hut, I no longer worried about my aimless feeling life, my singleness, my childlessness.  These women and children, this afternoon, was....IS.....ARE....the gift(s).

As much as having tattoos on my forearms is a crazy thing to do as an actress, I really love them, because even with the messages permanently written on my body, in plain sight, I forget them sometimes.  When I do, some angel leans over and grabs my arm and points and reminds me why they are there.

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