Wednesday, April 29, 2009

When I grow up

Two so-cheerful-they-seemed-drunk middle-aged nurses got onto the van. They emerged from a rather swank hotel. When we peered from the van into the lobby of the hotel, there was a beautiful vista of a volcano. The top of the volcano was obscured by clouds, so technically we were just looking at a mountain, I suppose, or a very large hill. The first woman hopped onto the van, and immediately started chatting everyone up. AP glanced over at me, looking miserable.

Later, one of the middle-aged women and I were sitting beside each other, and she told me all about the Canadian health care system, and living in Nova Scotia, and the details of their tour, some of which involved some extreme sports in which you would not expect these particular women to be engaging. Later on, AP apologized for stranding me with the lady, but I failed to understand why. All through the trip, she had been chatting away with various backpackers, but somehow the fact that these women were older seemed to make AP's stomach turn.

I've recently discovered I'm fond of old people. Maybe it's because I'm getting older. Or maybe it's because, in my family, the older people were always more interesting. It's a strange thing. So many Indian children born in the US are raised and trained to get a good education, get gainful employment, buy a good house, find a good spouse, have their two-three kids. The stories kind of blur. But all the older Indian people I talked to when I was a child had a different story. My grandparents, especially, and my grandparents' siblings could claim the most colorful stories of the family by leaps and bounds.

And really, we were on a journey that attracts the young. It's a backpackers' country, where you can get from point to point on the cheap, stay in hostels, zipline through the jungle, hike into utter darkness. So, to me, the older folks were all the more fascinating. Later, as we stood on a plank cabled to a tree, it dawned on me that we were about to go sailing through the forest with nothing but a few cables and some caribiners locking us into place. All morning, we'd been debating between options, and so I had no time to really think of my fear of heights or my lack of coordination or the various ways I could go plunging to my death. It wasn't until I got up there, a light mist blanketing the canopy of thick, magical forest. It wasn't until the guides started giving us directions about what to do if we got stuck or if we were going to fast. It wasn't until just that moment, mere minutes before I was about to be bound to a cable, that a pit formed in my stomach.

Then I looked in front of me and there were two people that were easily over 65 years old, a couple. The man was hearty, his face ruddy and jovial. The woman was frail. She looked like she could break in two, and she looked worried that she would break in two. One of the guides accompanied her because of how frightened she looked. But she did it. And by the 6th zip line, she was sturdy, holding forth on how frightened she had been at first. She was embarassed that she had burst into tears on the first zip line, not that any of us noticed, engrossed as we were in conquering our own fears. I looked over to her and said, "Don't worry, a lot of us were crying on the inside," which caused her to laugh.

AP looked at me like I was the biggest drip on the planet, but I didn't much care. The thing is, those old folks had emboldened me. When I had stood up on the platform, my heart starting to pound a little, I looked out in front of me and thought, well, if people 30+ years older than me are sucking it up, who am I to have a nervous breakdown? And after the first second, as I went soaring through the sky, I was elated. It was breathtakingly beautiful, humbling, bursting with life.

So I thought- when I grow up, I want to be an old woman.

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