There and Back Again

Three of my art students in Jharsuguda, 2011.

Three of my art students in Jharsuguda, 2011.

Adventures are uncomfortable.

I always used to laugh at Bilbo Baggins in the beginning of “The Hobbit.”  I could just imagine him, huffing and puffing on the mat with a brightly colored waistcoat stretched aggrievedly across his midsection.  “Adventures?!  Nasty, dirty, uncomfortable things—make one late for dinner!”

I, of course, would have welcomed a dozen dwarves on my doorstep.  “Make it a baker’s dozen!” I would have exclaimed, and laughed heroically at the mere mention of stealing treasure from a dragon.  “Just one?” I would exclaim.  “Why, we’ll be home by teatime!”

At least, that’s how I imagine it when I’m doing the reading, preferably in a patch of sun on a spring afternoon, with a light breeze obliging me once in awhile so I don’t get too hot.  Or perhaps curled up on the couch by the fire with a cup of tea and a cookie and my sweetie rubbing my feet since, really, could he possibly have anything better to do?

But alas, here I am, nasty, dirty, uncomfortable, and beginning to sympathize with Mr. Baggins…and I’m still on the plane!  Five hours into my adventure and despite the desperate purchase of a neck pillow, the closest I can get to sleep is a mild delusional haze.  The gentleman blocking my access to the bathrooms is sleeping just fine,  if his snores are any evidence, and I’m trying to decide what’s worse—me wetting myself, or him waking up to an apologetic American straddling him as she attempts to reach the aisle.  

Fortunately, I’m still enjoying the warm glow of fictional characters triumphing gloriously over their discomforts, having just finished watching “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” which puts 70% of my favorite old people and 55% of what I love about India all in one movie, with love and kisses and chocolate biscuits for everyone.  At the highly satisfactory ending, Judi Dench reminds us that, “It will be all right in the end, and if it’s not all right now, then it’s not the end.”  This puts me in a very reflective mood.  I wonder if this isn’t the grand purpose of stories with happy endings—to train us to expect good things so that when we’re uncomfortable, we’ll assume all we need to do is keep going.

Of course, I couldn’t get OFF the plane right now, even if I wanted to.  But this thought prompts me to find a small sliver of my brain that isn’t focused on my cramped muscles, sandpapery eyes or bursting bladder and use it to contract my facial muscles into something that closely resembles a smile.  A little girl who is going to meet her grandmother in Pakistan for the first time pops her head up over the seat in front of me.  She babbles something no less adorable for being unintelligible, and I smile for real.

My musings are interrupted by the celestial snorts and snufflings of my neighbor in the aisle seat.  Oh sweet heaven—he’s awake, and HE has to pee too!  I tumble worshipfully out of my seat and rejoice in the little glowing light that tells me the lavatory is vacant.  I return a few moments later, stretched, refreshed, and relieved, and with much more of my brain focused on the smiles that will be waiting for me if I just keep going.