I was taken by surprise last Sunday afternoon. A few moments of inattention and WHAM, I almost doubled over from the pain in my stomach.
It wasn’t an illness, a perforated ulcer, or anything like that. It was a memory that got me, a memory of the loneliest day of my life. That’s an odd thing to say when you consider I was heading home from my parent’s house where I’d spent the day with them and my younger siblings.
And yet the loneliness was over-whelming, a physical pain that was devouring me from the inside out, a loneliness caused by myself, by a decision I’d made. While that particular loneliness has lived with me to this day, it never again bit with the shark teeth that it did on that that Christmas Day in 1963. And yet, forty-seven years later, the shark was back in an instant.
Two tears seared my left cheek before I realized what was happening and took back control. I wasn’t going there again, yet it took a few hours of butt-kicking and determination before I righted my boat and beat back the shark.
Now, a week later, the day after Christmas, a tornado swept me up in its vortex and dumped me in Oz. Actually, it was more like three different Ozes, each one wondrously comfortable, and rather than a dead-eyed beast shredding me, I was suffused with nostalgia.
I was riding the rails once again, my hands grasping the curved wooden handlebar, my feet planted firmly on the runners of the classic dog sled. The temperature was zero, the perfect weather for running a dog team. Not for the human—but for the dogs.I'd stepped on the runners to test the flexibility of the sled, and for an instant I saw before me six silver and white huskies, tongues flapping allegro to the music of sled runners crunching hard-packed snow.
I wasn’t going anywhere, actually, because the sled was on a concrete garage floor and there weren’t any huskies in sight.
It was the sled that going somewhere—to a young girl turning eleven years old who has known for several years that she was “Born to Mush,” just like the title of her home-schooling blog. A few days ago she reminded her parents that in three years she will be old enough to run the Junior Iditarod sled dog race. The parents gulped.
I gathered up all the gear I’d been reluctant to part with for the many years since my last husky died of old age. The gear had been impossible to part with. It was hard to admit that part of my life was over.Now it seemed right. I adore that young girl and, as her Daddy reminded me, I know where the sled is going and I can always go visit it.
The second part of the journey to my past came because I’ve been trying to find room on my books shelves for more books. More than two hundred lineal feet of book shelves in this house are lined with books, some two deep, and yet I don’t have enough room. I started pulling the ones I would part with, and came across a guitar course for the rank beginner, complete with chord chart and two CDs.
After I returned home from delivering the sled, I got my guitar out of the corner where it’s stood untouched (except for the occasional dusting). The A string was broken. I got my sister’s guitar out of the storage closet. It’s A string was broken. In another closet I found the Ziploc bag with assorted guitar and dulcimer strings and found an A string. It has to be at least thirty years old.I opened a cardboard box and took out the pages of instruction and music that I’d collected long ago when I took lessons from Wayne, a New Zealander who taught finger-picking for folk guitar.
It took two electronic tuners, a pitch fork and a pitch pipe before I got the darn thing in tune. The C chord is the only one I remember, and the gut strings bit deeply into fingers that have softened after too many years away from a guitar. These fingers have a lifetime of feeling in them, a lifetime of burns and cuts, of heat and freezing, of gentle and firm.
Some of the joints are swollen with arthritis. The ring finger of my right hand has a tendency to lock up, and that will be critical to whether or not I can continue with a guitar course for rank beginners.
An e-mail from Walter inspired my next time travel adventure. He’d been on the trip to China and Tibet that I’d made in September and October. He wrote that he’d just re-read “Seven Years in Tibet,” an account of the time Heinrich Harrer spent in Tibet during and after World War II. Harrer became a mentor to the young Dalai Lama, leaving only when Chinese troops were taking control.
I downloaded the e-version to my Kindle. A couple days later I was sorting through some video movies, intending to give some away to neighbor kids, and I came across an unopened VHS tape of the movie by the same name, starring Brad Pitt.This evening, after the dog sled, after the folk music, I was looking through the TV schedule and found “Seven Years in Tibet” was playing on Showtime. Momentarily forgetting that I owned a copy of it, I planned to watch it on TV to refresh my memory of the story and also to gauge its location authenticity. An announcement before the movie noted that the film was shot in Argentina because of objections from the Chinese government to shooting on site in Tibet.
After the movie’s release, critics laughed at the “inaccurate landscape.”
Years passed before it became known that a camera crew had gone to Tibet “undercover,” and photographed the buildings and landscape. The landscape was accurate.
And, OMG, was it ever. Shortly after the action placed Harrer in Lhasa, Tibet, I was there, too. The costumes, the Potola Palace, the harnesses on the ponies, the decorations on the yaks, the brooms, the fur hats, the prayer wheels and white prayer shawls—it was all there, even the yellow headdresses of the Yellow Hat sect of Tibetan monks that served the Dalai Lama.
There I was again in the land I’d dreamed of visiting since I was a small child, and now I know I can go back anytime by simply slipping a VHS tape into a small machine and pushing a button.