Matt and I are sitting in our hotel room, watching an episode of “Winnie-the-Pooh” dubbed into Hindi. To my untrained ear, it sounds like gibberish interspersed by high-pitched squeals of “Christopher Robin!”
I’m curled up under a sheet, somehow simultaneous hot and shivering. I spent the morning shooting interviews with team members on the roof sans water, and ended up sunburned and nauseous, edging on collapse. While my methods were unwise, my timing was fortuitous: the festival concludes today in a spasm of drinking and fireworks, and after the roads were closed, the team was sequestered for safety at the hotel for most of the afternoon. I curled up atop the hotel covers and awoke to darkness, feeling… “refreshed” isn’t the word. “Alive.” I am decidedly not dead.
I am, in fact, feeling much better than I normally would in this instance. A good sunburn can knock me out for a couple of days, but the alarming shade of red that my eyes were peering out of at lunch time has faded with uncharacteristic speed. But then, men much more holy than I prayed for me as I slept. Perhaps I can get them to do so again should I ever vacation in the tropics.
As this is our first real pause since arriving here in India, it could be assumed I would use the time for prayer and reflection. But lying here in the heat of this hotel room, my thoughts return to their same well-worn channels. My mind is a hive of self-interest, and even amidst pain and hope and squalor, I find myself thinking about the everyday pettiness I’ll be return to. I think about my exercise routine. I try to guess if my fantasy football team won last week. I wonder if my DVR has filled up.
How far would I have to go to free myself from the nonsense. If I traveled to distant lands and took up monkhood, how long before my mind would be clear of heaviness that bogs it? A month? A year?
Annie Dillard wrote a Pulitzer Prize-winning book about nature, and she did it with her blinds tightly drawn. Maybe place means less than I imagine. People in comfortable houses talk about how the suburbs is choking them, as if being well-fed and protected somehow keeps you from understanding the world’s needs. Could I rise out of my own bed and think of anyone other than myself each day?
Could I even do it once?