Originally I planned to leave in mid-September for a three month around the world trip. I simplified my plan to just Asia, with stops in Australia and New Zealand. But before I purchased my ticket my friend in Vancouver, Janine, asked me to be present at the birth of her daughter, whose due date was October 6th. Janine’s husband, Paul, was from Australia, so I said to her, “I could go and wander around Australia, or I can delay my trip and watch an Australian be born. I’ll stay.”
I planned my departure date for October 15th in case the baby was late. I purchased my ticket for Japan, China, Hong Kong and Nepal. But for a week after I bought my ticket I felt agitated by my plans. I didn’t know why. I was slipping into that place I’d been for the last year, where every little action, decision, project, every item added to my to do list overwhelmed me. My inner voice screamed to simplify my trip even more.
Some of the emails I was getting didn’t help:
From my friend Jessica: “My friend who just got back from two weeks in Kathmandu said it nearly killed her.”
From my Nepali friends, Iswari and Naresh: “Our friends who come to Kathmandu last no more than ten days before getting respiratory problems from the dust and pollution. You should plan to get out of the city for much of your stay. The drive to Renu’s school will be horrific because of the traffic.”
Eugenia at Air Treks when I called to book my seat assignments out of Nepal: It’s good you have an eight hour layover in Delhi, because the flights from Nepal never leave on time. You should rush right to the gate when you get there, because Delhi airport is one of the most chaotic in the world and you can’t book your seat beforehand. You’ll probably just make your connection home.”
From Don, my medical insurance agent: “Your medical insurance will cover you in Japan and China. My understanding is that you pay for services when rendered and work it out later with your domestic insurance. In Nepal, do your best to stay well. My son was treated for a serious respiratory infection there last year with sulfur salts and twenty year old Vicks VaporRub on his chest.”
I suffered from allergies so the thought of respiratory problems concerned me. I bought face masks for the pollution, bought a fresh jar of Vicks VaporRub, and planned to out of Kathmandu as quickly as possible.
Still my stress level was too high. I wanted to end my trip yearning for more, not sick and burnt out. After my trip, the plan was to meet Cradoc in Santa Fe, New Mexico, drive to Tucson for the winter, then go to Spain for three months. I’d be on the road a total of nine months. I wanted to have the energy to help my mother in Tucson. I wanted to be strong and healthy to go to Europe with Cradoc. I cut out the Nepal leg of my trip. “Travel less, to travel better,” wrote the author Bill Bryson.
But the real reason I didn’t want to go to Nepal was Sunita wouldn’t be there to greet me. Iswari’s sister, Renu, ran a school in Kathmandu. Sunita was a student I sponsored since she was seven years old. My dream to get to Kathmandu was driven by my desire to meet Sunita face to face. But she died two years ago.
Since meeting Sunita wasn’t possible, my desire to go vanished. I didn’t want to meet the other students we sponsored. I wasn’t up to meeting Sunita’s family, or seeing her shrine. It all hurt too much still. All I wanted to do was hear, “Namaste Mom, I’m so glad you made it.” I would go to Nepal, but another time. There was no rush. That was what I said for all those years that made me delay my trip to meet Sunita. There was no rush. If I wanted to accomplish and do and see all I wanted to in this lifetime there was always a rush. The Story of Sunita, below, was written on a week after her death, on October 8, 2008.
On October 2nd, as Janine soaked in a tub of warm water, soft music played in the dimly lit birthing room, Jayda Laurel slipped gently into the world. Being part of a natural water birth with just Janine, Paul, a midwife and myself was a miracle. What I didn’t know then, but I knew now, was being present at Jayda’s birth was one of the best parts of my journey. The never ending cycle of death and birth.
The Story of Sunita
Fourteen years ago on a rainy night in Vancouver, my Nepali friend, Iswari, asked if I wanted to sponsor a child at her sister Renu’s school outside of Kathmandu. The cost was around $300 to put a child through the school for a year. In a country where the average yearly income was less than $250 that amount was a small fortune. The children came from poor families and sometimes the school lunch was the only meal they ate all day.
My lifestyle of moving and traveling around the world wasn’t stable enough for a child, so I’d decided not to have children. But I wanted to help as many children as possible. I told Iswari to sign me up and became a Global Mom.
A month later Renu sent a photo in the mail of the child I sponsored. A seven year old girl, small, with the sweet smile of an angel stood in the school’s playground looking directly into the camera. It was love at first sight. We sponsored other girls also, but my relationship with Sunita was special, she was my spirit child.
Each year Renu sent me Sunita’s school photo and I was filled with pride as she blossomed into a beautiful young woman. When she was old enough Sunita wrote to me, letters written in precise perfect English, filled with gratitude and love. When she learned I didn’t have children she asked if she could call me Mom, “Because Mom, you have given me my life just as much as my own mother.”
Over the years I sent her small gifts; a winter coat, a hat and scarf hand knit by my mother, a calculator, pens, paper. “Thank you Mom! I couldn’t believe when I opened the box and saw the calculator. I am the happiest girl ever.”
When Sunita finished high school I offered to pay for college. This was what her family wanted her to do. But she wanted to become an air hostess. Because I was paying for the school the decision was mine.
I wrote to Sunita and said, “No. The decision is yours. If you don’t get a job as an air hostess I’ll help you go to college. So you have nothing to loose by trying. It’s important we follow our dreams.”
She wrote me back, “Mom, we have so much in common. I also want to see the world. I have decided to go to air hostess school. I will make you proud, Mom. I promise.”
Sunita spent a year in air hostess school and was immediately hired by Yeti Airlines. Of course she would be; her sprit flew as high as any airplane.
I loved this girl who said it was her heart’s desire we meet one day. She told Renu, “Now that I have a job with the airlines maybe one day I can fly to see my Godparents.”
For years I’d dreamed of going to Nepal to meet Sunita. I wanted to go last year for my
fiftieth birthday, but I let work become the priority once again, and put off the trip.
Then last month, in early October, I received an email from Renu. “Oh Therese, I have some bad news. Our Sunita has been killed in a plane crash three days ago.” I stopped reading right there, grabbed my stomach, wailed and rocked in the chair. When I could stop the flood of tears I read on. “She was on a Yeti Airlines flight to Mt. Everest when the small plane with nineteen people on board crashed into the side of the mountain and burst into flames while landing. A sudden fog had rolled in and covered the airstrip. Everyone was killed instantly except the captain.”
I went out to the garden to calm myself down. I pulled out dead plants, cut back the overgrown wild ones and watered the rest. Tears ran down my cheeks as the drips from the hose ran down my arm. I took a handful of dirt and let it run through my fingers. The wind blew some into the air reminding me of the ashes of my father I held in my hand not long ago.
From dust to dust.
And now the only person to ever call me Mom was also dust. I would only know this amazing girl through her photos and letters. If I’d listened to my own advice and followed my dream, we would’ve met. I didn’t dare think if Sunita hadn’t followed her dream, she might still be alive. I would miss our future together, our trips to visit each other, her letters, someone calling me Mom. All the time I thought we had up in flames. Flames that a million tears couldn’t put out.
I turned off the hose and walked into the kitchen. Cooking soothed my soul. I touched the orange cherry tomatoes one by one as I washed them under the faucet. I was alright until I went to the refrigerator and saw the photo of Sunita on the door. She was dressed in her red airline uniform that showed her strong shapely body, long legs in black stockings and pumps, her intense, dark eyes looked straight ahead, focused on her future. Her whole life ahead of her.
It was impossible to think she was gone. I ran my fingers across her face, a face that would stay forever young and I let a million more tears fall.
I swore at that moment I would pursue my dreams, the way Sunita had the courage to pursue hers. Because I’d rather die while living my dream then live a life of excuses. If I did that I’d come to the end of my long, safe life and realize what a nightmare that safe path had been. A path that led me nowhere except to the land of empty dreams.
Instead, I’d dance the dance of a life lived outside my comfort zone. And at the end of my life as I took my last breathe, I’d be filled with gratitude I choose the other path. No matter where it led me.