My friend Blanning sold her family home, packed her stuff into two PODs, and hit the road after her parents died. Shortly before she left, we chatted on our yoga mats before class one day. She told me of her plans to load a backpack and her dog into her red Jeep, and head for points west.
“For how long,” I asked? “Where will you go? Stay?” I, security-minded and Type A, needed to know. She didn’t, and smiled and shrugged. “I’m not sure, we’ll see.” I shared with her my newly hatched, fledgling idea of moving to England to study Shakespeare.
“Your face lit up when you told me that,” she said. “You have to go!”
Many months later, I signed up for a writers’ retreat in the Columbia River Gorge, just outside Portland, Oregon. Her Facebook page indicated that she’d soon head there.
“I’ll be in Portland in April, and would love to see you,” I messaged her.
And meet up we did, the day after she arrived in town, at the famous and fabulous Powell’s Bookstore.
We shared delight over our serendipitous meeting, details of her trip to date, and my plans. She was genuinely pleased that I’d pursued the nascent Shakespeare idea, and that it would come to fruition. “I just knew you’d do it,” she said.
She would return east soon, leaving her car in storage and her dog with a wonderful sitter (who makes him fresh salmon for dinner) as she made her way to Ireland to explore that Emerald Isle and her roots. We hugged as I left her to explore the miles of books and promised to keep in touch.
As my plans for England solidified, Facebook once again told me of her whereabouts. She’d explored much of Ireland and Scotland and would be in London right around when I’d arrive.
I messaged her again. “Will arrive in Stratford Upon Avon 28 August (adopting the sensible British habit of putting the date before the month) Want to come up for a visit?”
Her “yes!!!” came back almost as soon as I hit the ‘send’ button.
And so she did. We spent my second day in the country together. I showed her my flat and Trinity Church, where Shakespeare’s bones rest, not a full block away. We strolled the Royal Shakespeare Company’s lush grounds adjacent to the river Avon. She’d brought a small packet of her parents’ ashes (which she’s been scattering throughout her sojourn) to sprinkle in the river. As we approached the railing just behind the RSC Theater, we heard rhythmic drumbeats and loud chanting. Men clad in marigold orange T-shirts and women in a colorful rainbow of saris lined the opposite bank, as several canal boats filled with similarly dressed young men played in the water.
Our yoga teacher trainings and long-term practices have given us both an appreciation of Hindu gods and traditions, but we were not sure exactly which deity or holiday they might be honoring. This festive celebration seemed quite an auspicious coincidence, especially since the music quieted and the crowd disbursed just as the last wisps of grey powder settled on the water’s surface. A lone pink lotus blossom floated in between the banks.
“Wow, that was amazing. What timing,” she said. A bit speechless, we just stared reverently as the ashes settled.
We both feel the presence of our departed parents very strongly. Here in Stratford, I marvel at the burgeoning population of two of my mother’s favorite creatures: swans and butterflies. In Connecticut, my parents lived in Stratford. We both experience these and other coincidences and “lucky” opportunities often.
Leaving the riverside, we shared tea and scones at FOURTEAS, a 1940’s-style teashop in town (her father served in WWII) before she ran to catch her train back to London. We promised to keep in touch, certain that our paths would cross again. “We MUST keep meeting like this,” we laughed as we hugged goodbye.
As I strolled back to my B&B, I saw the Hindu revelers again. Now, they drew a crowd (and created a cloud) as they tossed neon pink powder high in the air and let it cover their hair, faces, and clothing as it fell. I thought of the fine ashes falling earlier that day and smiled at the similarity. The drums beat and the men danced, hands waving overhead.
“May I ask what you’re celebrating?” I asked one of the younger men.
“Of course! We honor Lord Ganesh. Come, join us!”
I wove through the crowd to its center where several men carried an intricately painted and embellished statue of the elephant god, as large as a child. The women placed herbs at his feet and lit incense as everyone chanted.
Soon they loaded him onto a canal boat and cruised the river with him aboard. The joyous mood was contagious, and people everywhere stopped to watch and sway with the hypnotic music. I followed the path of fuchsia powder on the pavement back to my room.
The auspicious day brought not one but two wonderful visitors: Blanning and Ganesh, the Remover of Obstacles. So many have already been removed just to let us both come as far as we have this year. His presence on the day we fortuitously came together again bodes well for a clear path for us in these days and months to come. Jai, Ganesha!