Yes! Of course I’m excited. After all, I have the good fortune to be taking a big trip to France. A kind of “dream” vacation. My dream. Still I feel the need to proclaim the truth of my anxiety. Allow it to be, so I can let it go, or maybe it can let go of me.
My grandma Anna, who was from the old country, used to say kaynahorah to ward off the evil eye, when, in the moment, life looked too promising. You don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea that things are going too swell for you or those you love. So you say “What a beautiful baby!” followed quickly by “Kaynahorah!”
I have a Salvadorean friend who I’ve known for twenty-five years. Whenever she’s going on a camping trip up to Mt. Shasta with her husband, and I say, “Have a good time”, or if she’s under the weather and I tell her I hope she feels better soon, she responds Si quiere Dios. (literally, if God wishes it). I used to think it was unnecessary, bringing a third person (God, in this case) into the conversation, but over time, I’ve begun to get it.
Not everything is in our hands, going to go according to best-laid plan. (Of course, since I don’t exactly believe in God, I don’t necessarily think it’s in his or her hands either).
Ram Dass used to say (quoting Yoda from Star Wars), “Believe it and make it real”. It’s good to know what you want, set goals, make a plan, all that. Believe in yourself. I do that. Not all the time. But often. Kaynahorah.
These days saying Kaynahorah and Si quiere Dios doesn’t seem so far-fetched. The slightly more scientific or, at least, mathematical saying, which would be analogous, is “Don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched”. This doesn’t mean you don’t tend the hens with the best organic feed and open space possible (like my friends in Locke do with their magnificent chickens). Still, the outcome is never certain.
If you’re me, you couple this kind of practicality (feeding the hens) and willingness to entertain uncertainty with a little bit of anxiety. Because it’s the way I’m wired, or the way my wiring got conditioned. Either way.
When I was a little girl I was the kind of kid that could go from happy to excited like some drivers go from zero to sixty. I don’t think it was uncommon for my happiness to end in tears. When I got older, I was the kind of young woman who would get a stomach ache when I got “too happy”. When I was 20, and had recently moved to San Francisco, I went with my friends Melody James and Julie Miller to visit Julie’s parents in Malibu. Their home faced the Pacific. It was impressively beautiful. Julie’s parents were nice, and dinner was served, but I was in the bathroom. When I finally came out, Mrs Miller asked if I was ok. I remember telling her I was ok, it was just my stomach that was acting up because I was really happy to be there. She gave me this concerned look, and said something about being sorry that my feeling happy was making me sick. I felt embarrassed and oh, so confused. Funny, not funny, how the nervous system and gut come from the same embryonic tissue.
Like Woody Allen lurved Annie Hall, I lurve happiness, my own, and anyone’s, everyone’s. Part of the reason I love the Dalai Lama is that he agrees with me about people’s relationship to happiness. Happiness excites me. “Too much” of it, for subterranean reasons, makes me anxious.
Now that I am days away from my big French trip, people naturally ask me. Are you excited? Yes, of course I am. Therein lies the rub. Excitement’s companion Anxiety. So, I say, Hello Anxiety. So you’re here too. Of course you are.
People ask me, why are you anxious? As if there needed to be a reason. Wanting to accommodate, I try to explain. I start benign. The short list. Beds and pillows. Will they be comfortable? Will I be able to sleep? Will the first aid packet I made be adequate for minor emergencies? Cuts? Bites? Stomach aches? Will my foot walk happily or complain the whole way? Should I pack only an umbrella or a raincoat too? I know I can buy whatever I need there, but do I really want two raincoats when I get home?
I’ve decided to experiment with going off my gluten-free diet to see if French wheat and flour is different than ours (as I’ve read). I’m excited to eat French bread and pastries, but also anxious that maybe the wheat isn’t that different. Maybe I’ll just give myself intestinal, joint and muscle pain, what American gluten does to me. Then have to waste part of my vacation recovering from my self-induced physical suffering.
It’s not like I haven’t read about the uptick in anti-semitism in France in recent years. Will I witness it? Experience it? What about men-with-automatic-weapons-on-trains? Hoping there’ll be some brave-off-duty-American-soldiers-randomly-on-the-train again in such an (I KNOW! Unlikely…) event.
I”m anxious about the refugees. Worried I’ll feel frustrated not to be of use, so-near-and-yet-so-far. Worried I’ll feel guilty. Me – traveling with papers, on planes, trains, with good food, whatever I want. Traveling for purposes of discovery, Not fleeing war and persecution. Personally I don’t know how everyone – vacationer or not – doesn’t think about the refugees most of the time. My brain seems to have little back doors going in and out of all its compartments. Adventures? Fleeing wars? Probably, all under “Travel”.
NONE OF THIS IS WORTH WORRYING ABOUT. I KNOW. I don’t do it because it’s worth it.
You may (understandably, at this point) question why I’m going to France at all. I love France. Its language, food, landscape. The people who took me in as a 21 year old refugee waif and were kind and generous toward me, putting the lie to every rumor I’ve ever heard about the unfriendly French. Who opened my world with a wedge of Camembert after dinner in my friends’ family’s farmhouse (Guichainville par Evreux) replacing forever American cheese slices, and all that meant. This is my 4th visit to France; the last time was 17 years ago. I’d been putting off going because I didn’t want to travel alone. A few months ago, when my friend Montserrat said she’d like to go too, should we go together? I couldn’t say Oui! fast enough.
When I mention anxiety, everyone – friend and acquaintance – acts like my new found and yet-to-be-hired best-friend-positivity coach. What??? YOU ARE GONNA HAVE A GREAT TIME!!!! Because I’m agnostic, I murmur softly Si quiere Dios. They are really certain. YOU ARE GOING TO HAVE A GREAT TIME!!. As if they believe 100% in “great-vacations-come-true-but-you-have-to-believe-dammit”. You just have to believe, like Yoda, and make it real. Really, I do know it’s because people Want me to have a great time.
But I come from that long lineage of Kaynahorahs and now, Si quiere Dioses, because the truth is we really never know what’s gonna happen, or when. It doesn’t help to worry and be anxious. I wouldn’t advise it. When temptations and difficult emotions came to take away the Buddha’s equanimity he simply said “I see you Mara”. When Mara gave him the final BIG question just before the Buddha’s enlightenment, I’m paraphrasing here, “Who do you think you are to achieve enlightenment?” The Buddha responded by touching the earth.
What does the Buddha’s story have to do with mine? Mara comes in many forms – temptation, desire, fantasy, anger, irritability, doubt, anxiety. If all else fails, Mara comes as pride or self-doubt. Mara visits everyone. For me, he often comes as Anxiety. Anxiety (Mara), I see you, I quote the Buddha.
I’m gonna give this vacation my best shot. As Lin Manuel Miranda has Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton sing in his mind-bogglingly terrific new Broadway musical “Hamilton”, “I am not throwing away my shot.”
(aside from this one line, and the fact that I Love this musical – only bits of which I’ve seen so far – this video has nothing really to do with this post. But watch it anyway.)
Dear readers and friends, I am grateful for your well wishes. I wish them for myself, and you — to travel safely, bravely, with great curiosity. To taste in every way different landscapes and peoples, to keep our minds and hearts open. Please hold me and the refugees in our vastly-different -European-travel-worlds in your hearts. Thanking you, and know I’ll be thinking of you too, and wishing you well. I’m planning to have a GREAT TIME. Kaynahorah and si quiere Dios.