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Lions Roar : July 2011
SHAMBHALA SUN JULY 2011 83 As I hustled him toward our departure gate, where boarding had already started, I looked at his face—pale and miserable— and knew we couldn’t get on another plane. I spoke with the gate attendant, who tore up our boarding passes and issued us new ones for the next day. Fifteen minutes later, we were checking in to the airport hotel for what I imagined would be a night of recovery before flying on. Three hours later, Skye was vomiting, with a fever of 103, and I knew we wouldn’t be doing a homestay with a family in Guatemala any time soon. Skye was too sick to go on, and too sick to fly home. We were stranded at the airport. Sitting up in his bed the next morning, Skye wept with disap- pointment. “I’m supposed to be driving to Lake Atitlán today!” he sobbed. “I’m supposed to be giving Selvin his helicopter!” I ached for him. I knew the all-too-human pain of comparing your actual life to the one you had envisioned and having it come up short. We’d pictured this day so many times—the shimmer- ing water of Lake Atitlán, the bright clothes of the Mayan women washing their clothes at the well, Skye running down the cob- bled streets with his new Guatemalan friends. We’d planned it so much that we had thought it was real—a solid future, just wait- ing for us to come and inhabit it. Instead, it had dissolved like the mirage it always was. We were looking out the window at a run- way with a jet roaring down it and lifting into the air—filled with people, presumably, whose plans had worked out. Except that’s not true, of course. It’s safe to assume that every person on that plane had experienced de- railments and disappointment in their lifetime far worse than our minor travel setback. What we were experiencing was not one of the big plan-shatterers— the bad blood test results, the phone call at two in the morning, the goodbye note on the kitchen table, the car swerving out of control on the patch of free- way ice. I’ve sat in the rubble of a shattered marriage; I’ve come home from a hospital with empty arms to a lovingly decorated baby girl’s room. This was not like that. We were com- fortable, safe, and well fed, I reminded Skye (and myself ). For heaven’s sake, we had room service. It wasn’t as exciting as being in Guatemala, of course—but was even that true? If Gladis’ family had been dropped down in this room, would they have found it tedious? Or would they have en- joyed the flat-screen TV with its on-demand movies; the built-in mini-fridge stocked with Schlitz beer and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups? And how did we know what our trip to Lake Atitlán would actually have been like? We were comparing reality with an air- brushed fantasy pinup and under those circumstances reality al- ways looks uncombed and disheveled. I decided to look at our stay in this one hotel room—for how- ever long it was—as a mini-meditation retreat. While Skye napped and recovered, I would meditate and do yoga on the travel mat I’d conveniently stuffed in my backpack. When he was awake, I would embrace being present with him as my practice. I would fully open to the trip that was actually happening and stop comparing it with the imaginary one I had planned. I’d try to remember that what was most important was not what was happening, but how I related to it. This had its challenging moments. As Skye’s fever climbed ev- ery night, he thrashed and moaned and called out in his sleep. (“That’s my snitch! The snow is two- to three-feet deep!” he cried, apparently deep in a game of nocturnal Quidditch on a ski slope.) As I lay awake listening to him breathe like a winded racehorse, the primal fear of a mother with a sick child surged inside me. When I was a few years younger than Skye, my father was sent to Vietnam for two years, and my mother took my older siblings and me to the Philippines to wait for him. On my improvised meditation retreat at the airport hotel, I felt my mother’s fear bubbling up inside me from its lodging deep in my cells. No wonder I like to plan things, I thought; no wonder I feel that disaster will strike if I don’t. Rattling in the back of my plans is the throb of my father’s helicopter flying over the war-ravaged jungles and the terror of my mother, waking up in the middle of the night with her children, far from home. I lay in bed and tried to meditate with the fear—to greet it with loving-kindness, get to know it, make it my friend. When I couldn’t stand it anymore, I got up and stood by Skye’s bed, bending my face close to his to see how hot he was and if I need- ed to call the emergency room now, or whether I could wait till the morning. He opened his eyes in exasperation. “Mom,” he said. “I’m trying to get some sleep here.” But for the most part—when I stopped com- paring things with my imaginary trip—the three days we spent in that one small room were actually quite enjoyable. With Skye dosed up on ibuprofen, we played chess and gin rummy and a Scrabble- like game called Bananagrams. We rented The Last Airbender, which we both agreed was slightly more entertaining than watching the four-story parking garage out the window. When I wanted a real thrill, I walked down the hall to the ice machine. When I opened my eyes, the trip—just as it was—was bursting with miracles. The crunch of hot buttered toast. The glowing red ball of the sun as it dropped low on the horizon over the runway and the plane taking off steeply in front of it. The laughter of my boy as he lay on the bed next to me, reading Septimus Heap: Syren. And the glorious fact that—other than a couple of calls to the airline to cancel our tickets—I didn’t make a single plan for seventy-two hours. AFTER THREE NIGHTS in the hotel, Skye was well enough to board a plane home, though still coughing and weak. We packed up our backpacks again, and headed out the door. Before I left, I turned and bowed to the hotel room, as if walking out of a temple. It hadn’t been the trip I had planned. But it had been real— and I had been there for it. And that, in itself, was cause for a small celebration. ♦ The Best-Laid Plans continued from page 37