A simple and familiar phrase we all use.
I’m home—the words invoke images of relief, accomplishment, celebration. But although my backpack is sitting in the corner and my boots are by the door, I’m not located here.
I’m home, but I’m not whole; I’m scattered all over the globe.
The flight back to the states takes 26 hours, we spend our final rupees on stale airport chocolate while we wait to board in Kathmandu; when the gate opens we find we’ve grown adept at pushing and shoving to get through, no “excuse me”, “sorry”; we’ve got the lay of the land. There are few other westerners on the plane, cabin crammed with Nepalese men headed to Dubai where they’ll work service jobs that mostly lead nowhere, pay next to nothing, return them home more broke and broken than now. They look scared, resigned, brown paper bags clutched in laps, scent of masala in the air—who packed these lunches? Who said goodbye to these sons and husbands dreaming of a better life, dressed as best they can be—khaki slacks, zipper jackets, brand name knock off shoes—bought with scraped together funds they leave home for the Promised Land, hoping to earn enough to send home, enough to send their children to school in India, a chance at “something else”.
The flight attendant marches up and down the aisle spraying pesticide, thick, gray fog, his lips are tight, eyes squinted nearly shut against the chemical haze as he strides by, a can in each hand like pistols firing at the ceiling, no warning. I scramble to pull something over my head, down jacket from backpack, stifling. Across the aisle a man vomits, sound of others doing same, coughing—we’re being fumigated. What the hell is this?
“Law”, says the attendant.
We land thumping and skidding in Dubai (this is not the city of glossy magazines). It’s dark, it’s late. Already time is getting slippery. We step into a warehouse-like painfully bright-lit cavernous building where migrants are processed; from there bussed to the “other” terminal, the one most tourists see; expensive shops, avant-garde art, food, beverage and the inevitable souvenirs. Then it’s on to Frankfurt—tastefully boring airport décor and around us everything the same, everyone’s clothing, luggage, lives, appear pale blue, gray, sky pale—faces pale; the colors are leaking out of the view, the landscape—inner and outer—changing faster than I can keep up with.
From Frankfurt we fly west, settle in for the siege: the interminable, droning flight to Chicago.
Back in the USA. Sudden onslaught of English language all around me; I’m an experiment—like in a sci-fi movie—I’m reduced in scale to an atom and injected into the brain of a lunatic. Travelling as a microscopic pilgrim inside someone else’s head, assaulted by random dialogue, music, announcements. I peer through the eyes of my host at form and color but no way to organize it. Gate numbers, luggage lines, searches—the absurdity of questions without answers, boarding passes, customs. I look down and there’s a cup of Starbucks in my hand that I have absolutely no recollection of buying. I just want to get on that last plane, and now, we have. And now, finally, below us the Great Lakes, the peaks of the Adirondacks, the soft, rounded hills-called-mountains of Vermont and then we land.
I’m really, really, really just about disembodied by the time I pick up my car, but determined to drive the 3 hours from Burlington south to Manchester and on the final twenty miles up the mountain and home. “I have a body,” I remind myself. “I’m in it.” But more accurate is this: I’m standing, walking, sitting next to myself, just to the right or left.
I turn the car radio on, get bombarded and turn it off, fast. More inside-the-head-of-a-lunatic stuff. I have to remind myself to drive on the right hand side of the road. I recall hearing that George Harrison once chanted his way home, driving for hours and hours from someplace or another. Maybe across Europe. Hare Krishna, Copenhagen. Krishna, Krishna Amsterdam, Hare, Hare Paris. The dashboard shrine inside the old Subaru is dusty; I wipe down the laughing Buddha on the dash and light a long stick of Kathmandu incense, wedge it into the plastic heater vent. With my mala in hand against the steering wheel I beckon the Guru Rinpoche to ride home with me, invite Yeshe Tsoygal to come, too. NPR can wait; I recite mantra the whole way home, 3 hours. The sun pans the horizon, Lake Champlain glows pink and silver before the sun melts into the mountains across the lake in New York. The stars come out. Those precious sky lanterns, so many light-years away and yet here. Now. Om mani padme hung. Om ah hung benza guru padme siddhi hung.