6-7-14, Denver International Airport En Route to Bali, Indonesia
I invited two incredible women to travel with me today. One other asked me if she could join us. My dear Grandmother Mary and my precious friend Gunilla Asher have transcended this sphere. One passed years ago by the natural course of the human journey, and one just this week after a brutal and heartbreaking battle with breast cancer. Both have souls that thirst for adventure- nationally, internationally, locally. Internally. Wherever either were always the place to find it.
“I don’t want to miss a thing!” Grandmother Mary Olivia was quoted as saying in her eulogy. And Gunilla. I can’t even quite believe she’s not here yet. I can’t believe that there even was a eulogy? A service? That a heralding (perhaps a better term) has already occurred to trumpet her arrival into the next realm isn’t even yet real. But. I invited them both. My Aunt Dons (Donna) is coming too. The same day that Gunilla passed, last Sunday, I talked to her. She had gotten the news that her cancer had the upper hand. She is 76, and having had a full life, beautiful children and grandchildren, and being ready (her words), she chooses to gracefully exit without the excruciating and unbelievable fight. She has already fought, but will pass on the final match- the rounds and rounds of blood and tears and poison and knock out punches that Gunilla has just lost. I told Aunt Dons that I was leaving for Bali in a week. And she said, “Take me with you.” It is my Honor.
That day when we spoke of her decision to die- the day Gunilla died, a Bird of Paradise that hadn’t bloomed in nine years (ever, actually- my plant whisperer mother had bought the scrawny pathetic ugly thing on a clearance rack at the grocery store not knowing what it was and had nurtured it to this day)- bloomed.
The four of us. We are a force. We are seekers, healers, artists. With words, brushes, medicine, science, energy and passion we find, mold, create and re-create our worlds. These women join me on an adventure- a trip that is not business, not pleasure seeking, not tourism or sun-bathing, but is a journey in which I begin to step into Me. A journey out of fear, into the fullness of embracing what Is that I don’t know, what Can Be that I haven’t understood, and that which Is Beautiful that I have not seen. It is all me. And it is the World.
It turns out, that I need new sunglasses through which to view the World. Because, yeah ok, there is a beach and some sunbathing that will probably happen in Candidasa, at the Lotus Bungalows in the warm southern waters of Indonesia. OR, maybe it will be by the infinity pool. Fine. You’ve got me. (Sometimes you don’t have to seek pleasure to find it!) I am at the register, grabbing a pair quickly and heading to the airport. The clerk is a lovely blond woman nearing…sixty? Veronica is her name. All irrelevant details. But what she says is so very, very relevant. “That is an exquisite Tahitian pearl!” she exclaims in an accent I don’t recognize (it was not Tahitian) and takes my hand. She remarks on its clarity, size, and other things one familiar with Tahitian pearls would know that a neophyte international traveler and wearer of nostalgic symbolic family treasures would not. “Thank you!” I reply, marveling. I almost hadn’t worn the ring. It was Mary Olivia’s. She had loved Tahiti, and visited frequently, the last visit well into her nineties when many people say you shouldn’t be traveling. Haven’t you lived already? They imply- Rest. Be old. You people are talking to the wrong octogenarian. Wait. That’s eighty. What’s ninety? Anyway. I inherited it when she passed, and it is a symbol to me of strength, independence and adventure. I almost lost it once years ago. I didn’t want to take the chance again. But there was noooo way I was going this far from home and not wearing this ring. And so. Through Veronica of the Sunglass Hut, I know Mary O travels beside me, spirit guiding, encouraging.
She is why I didn’t forget that ring, or a pair of tweezers and an alternate toiletry kit in my carry-on. Because you never know when you might need a toothpick, a ball of twine a hairpin and a blowtorch. Of course she is here. She was on board before I even knew I was taking this trip. (*See, Regrets and Celebration) It was a sign. Or maybe more like a role call. Mari Hale? Present. Mary O? Why, Yes! Been waiting for this for years. It’s maaarvelous! Wouldn’t miss it for the world. Don’t want to miss a thing.
The next “check in” comes in just as undeniable a manner. In the security line while waiting for TSA to violate me, I look around, watching people, wondering who they were and where they were going. I wonder what their stories are, what their baggage (not luggage, baggage) is, and equally about their triumphs. What do their dreams look like? That’s what I do. I love people. They are amazing (yeah that means you). I see, in the handicapped (can I still say that? Special needs?) line, a girl with dark hair, in a wheelchair with an army of people around her. She has a clear plastic oxygen tube wrapped around her head, and a piece in her nose that is supporting her very breath. She is too young to be on that kind of life support. As was my own dark haired beautiful friend- the last person I had seen breathing with the help of a clear plastic tube. What I see is Gunilla, going through security on her last trip to Mexico a few weeks ago- a trip that was very close to never happening for her. Platelet counts, emergency plans, pre-check ins at the nearest hospital in Isla Mujeres. Because this is life and death here, people. Stage four breast/bone/lung Brach One gene mutated cancer. When many people say you shouldn’t be traveling. They imply, be sick. Be done.
I was lucky enough to be with her when the tech came in, at Aspen Valley Hospital after the deciding blood test that would determine her make or break platelet count. “Gunilla Asher?” We held our breath. “115.” YES!!!!!!! Or, rather, “FUCK YEAH!!!” (I believe was the actual quote. She was going to fucking MEXICO! In a wheelchair, attended by an army, with oxygen. Like this girl I am watching now. Gunilla is top of mind.
I remember so many conversations of the past week. Her life, her loss, her tragedy, her Beauty. Her passing, and how she was going to let us know she was ok, and here. She was going to fuck up our electronics. (Really, G? You couldn’t just float by as a beautiful blue butterfly???) Of course not. But she would be a hummingbird. She could be that. She would be a hummingbird that fucked with people’s electronics. And she would. There is a reason you inhale sharply when you see those tiny little wonders. They bring us back a piece of the breath that we have lost. And indeed, the night before her memorial, we were up at her house. Without her, sitting on her porch. Without her. Because she fucking died, remember?
The hummingbirds were having wars, as they do. Four, eight, twelve of them? Buzzing around the feeder at the Starwood oasis that they called home. The boys were making a fire, the kids were conspiring to light it, and soon her ashes would be brought out and tequila shots would be done. The sun was going down. One hummingbird caught my groggy sleep deprived eye. It was the most brilliant green- emerald green, a glowing, literally electric neon green. A green that I have never seen, but I imagine is that flash that happens over the ocean at sunset at the equator. Was it the way the fading light hit it? Was it radioactive? Did I need sleep? Whatever. I saw it.
I was sitting at the bar, eating a bowl of vegetable soup with a side of cabernet sauvignon at Wolfgang Puck’s in the Denver B Concourse. (B is for Bali, the real breathing person who helped me with my tickets and bags told me. I loved him.) A man comes and sits next to me. We chat, because that’s what I do, remember? I love people’s stories. He is going to Mexico. He consults for an oil company down there, has four children, three grandchildren, and he and his wife are building their retirement “cabin” in Montana. Here, let me show you, he says and reaches for his pocket god, the sacred keeper, organizer and planner of lives. I think it was a Samsung. He pushes the right facing triangle on the screen. A video starts to play.
“Do you like hummingbirds?” he asks. My hand goes to my mouth. There is a hummingbird war ensuing on his porch. Four, eight, twelve. More. And yes. A bright green one. Gunilla Asher? The role call continues. “Present! Now why are we drinking Cabernet? Where’s the fucking tequila?” Aunt Dons is still with us. But she will check in also. And I can’t wait to tell you how.
Now. Jesus. (That’s a prayer, Lord…) It is 11:30 at night. I still have two hours until my 11 hour flight to Taiwan, at which point I have to change planes and fly another five hours to Denpasar. My stomach is swollen with the caffeine I have been drowning in to keep my eyes open so that I don’t have to pry them open with toothpicks. (But in case of emergency I do I have toothpicks in my purse (thanks, Grandma). The caffeine is not working. One of you Bitches (sorry, Grandma) is going to have to get me on that plane. I realize in that moment that I am traveling, alone, to the other side of the world. For the first time. And I am terribly excited, and terribly frightened. And I am sooooo not alone.
(Side note from a later point in time:) When I arrived at the hotel at the first point in my journey, the Lotus Bungalows in Candidasa, a gorgeous bird of paradise bouquet met me in the lobby. Aunt Donna was already there. There are many, many amazing flowers in Bali, as you can imagine. The ones that my spirit guides chose for themselves were the Lotus, the Frangipani, and of course, the Bird of Paradise.
The Lotus- tropical, beautiful, sometimes open, sometimes closed, depending on the heat of the day. Pink. That was Gunilla in her last years. Open, inviting, welcoming, warm and beautiful. Until she couldn’t handle the pressure, the heat, the pain, and needed to hole up. Go inside. Take cover. Go under. And then, she would open again. Show you her colors in the cool of the evening, or by the morning light.
The Frangipani- playful, abundant. Stalwart and wide-reaching. Fragrant, the perfume of the spirit. Everywhere. The frangipani blooms all year long. It drops it’s blossoms unannounced into your path, carpeting your world with beauty, urging you on to your next step, to adventure down the path. It promises that if you just continue, putting one step in front of the other, that there will be wonder and beauty that awaits you.
And the Bird of Paradise- well, that’s just Aunt Dons. It persists, it grows, quietly needing little water, little attention. Strong and tall, unassuming. And then, one day, it unfolds itself- sharp, colorful, bold. Petals like none you have seen. Extraordinary. Wise. Beautiful. I am blessed.