En Route

September 18, 2011

The little screen on the seat back shows a moving map of the plane: the animation depicts the globe with a white aircraft hovering above a solid yellow line, marking the distance covered, and a broken yellow line indicating miles to go. According to the screen, we are somewhere above the Bering Strait. Only 5,000 miles more.

The window tells a different story. The one that astonishes: a sea of white clouds and glaciers and snow-covered mountains that appear to be split in two by frozen rivers, forming perfect complements, an awesome jigsaw puzzle of a barren and perfect landscape softened by the gentle pink of the rising sun. Or is it rising? The colors appear to just rest on the horizon. Of course, we are also flying west at a ground speed of over 500 miles per hour.

Sara says we are supposed to sleep. She told me to set my clock to Hong Kong time as soon as we boarded this afternoon in Toronto. Even after so little sleep after a long night of packing and days––weeks? months?—of ceaseless preparations, I still can’t sleep. The frozen, white sea with its dark flowing cracks like a Japanese ink brushed across a blank page has captured my mood and my imagination. And what can one do when faced with such stark beauty, when allowed against all sensible laws of nature to peer into the majesty of the earth but feel called to pray.

This is how it is when you awaken in a new world.

Years ago I went scuba diving for the first and only time of my life. I was traveling in Israel for a month and ended up in Eilat with a day to fill in the blazing August heat, and so I found myself heading for the sea, a tourist attraction on the Gulf of Acaba called Dolphin Reef. I told the young woman at the ticket booth that I wanted to snorkel with the dolphins. She gave me a bored look and said: “Why not go diving instead? It’s so much better that way, don’t you think?” Suddenly, I felt unadventurous for wanting only to snorkel. The previous three weeks I had traveled around the country alone, riding horses in the Galil, traveling by donkey through Petra. In a number of hours I would leave Eilat to begin a camel trek through the desert.

I signed the waiver. Moments later I was in a wetsuit, with flippers, snorkel and mask. Someone put an oxygen tank on my back. Another person showed me how to work the controls, and demonstrated the hand signals I would use to communicate with the diving guide who would accompany me. His name was Ronin, a name from an Irish film I had seen about humans who become seals. In his dark shiny wetsuit, Ronin looked like a seal.

Soon he guided me down the beach and I took huge, awkward steps in my flippers over the sand and into the turquoise water. When the water closed over our heads, I thought we would resurface until I was comfortable, but Ronin had taken my hand and guided me deeper. The black waves of panic buzzed in my ears and I thought this would be a good time to use the distress signal, but a voice inside me said “breathe” and I did, until the steady sound of my echoey breaths calmed me and I could kick my flippers and swim alongside my guide. Then I could see.

Have you ever experienced hyperawareness of your reality? Like you might be in the middle of doing something so normal, something you’ve done hundreds of times, like practicing yoga, sweat dripping on your mat, and suddenly you wake up in your body and think: I am here. Here I am. The teacher tells you to bend forward. You bend. She then tells you to jump back into high plank. You jump. But you think: Who is this doing the jumping?

I am here.

With eyes that didn’t know what it was to see. With a mind that had never imagined becoming part of the ocean, I woke up to the neon colors of the coral reef. Speckled yellow fish, spotted orange fish, fish wearing the watercolor pallet of Monet. Swimming in this living rainbow, I had forgotten all about the dolphins, who brushed past us with their high-pitched clicks. I wanted to laugh, or sing, or at least say the “shekiyanu” but my mouth was silenced with the oxygen.

Our origins begin in water. And it was in the sea that ghastly hot August day that I knew what it might mean to be reborn, as in the sudden jolt of consciousness that marks the end of one life and the beginning of the next.

The dotted yellow line on the screen that our animated airplane follows leads me to Hong Kong, China. From there, Sara and I will collect our 200 pounds of luggage (160 of it mine) and drive 2.5 hours northwest to Dongguan, where I will meet Dr. Wang on Monday to lay the groundwork for the next two months of sono-photodynamic therapy, the treatment that I pray will guide me to remission.

Mile after mile, the screen shows me, we are getting closer to our arrival.



  1. Been feeling you so strongly, sending you infinite love. Here’s to rebirth. Rebirth is here. And we’re all with you.

  2. I saw David and Toby on Sunday. I asked if there was any news from China. David said it is a journey. He’s as poetic as you. Your home and garden were bathed in sun — you could tell how much love surrounded it. Leo was asleep, so I didn’t get to see him. But I left some good food and appropriate treats for all of them. It felt good to connect with you through them. Sending healing energy and lots of love.

  3. And mile after mile, you are loved from afar…

  4. So many prayers and so much love to you and my dear friend Sara who sings with me on Mondays. I keep you both in my heart and thoughts and look forward to hearing of your journey through this new land through your beautiful voice.


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