Even though the movie that helped lift me out of a deep depression was decidedly Christian, I knew of no Christian churches that might be in Colombo. If I did even think of trying to find a Christian to help me know more about the Jesus I felt so drawn to in this amazing musical, (the songs still inspire me and I wish I could play Mary Magdalene in a live play), I have totally forgotten.
Through the traveler’s grapevine, I heard of a Buddhist temple where I could stay for free. Free was a very popular word for me, especially since my resources were dwindling after being on the road for 8 months. But even more attractive was the promise of spiritual sustenance. When I met with the head monk, he told me that if I could stay for 21 days, being silent, only meditating, eating, and sleeping (no reading or writing), I would find enlightenment. I would always be peaceful after that.
I believed him. And I wanted this outcome so badly. But after three days of doing something which I had never done in my life, I thought I would go crazy. The fact that I lasted that long is a miracle. But my yearning for peace must have been strong.
After leaving the monastery, I started feeling very concerned about my state of health. I visited a western doctor. I can’t remember the diagnosis, but somehow she motivated me to try to get back home. I got as far as Meshad, Iran, where I barely had the strength to get my pack off the bus and get to a hotel, and then almost immediately go to a hospital. I was really in bad shape when I was in Herat, Afghanistan, but natives and travelers alike told me to never go to an afghan hospital, and yet another miracle happened where I was able to garner the strength to get through customs and find my way to a free hospital where I was treated very well.
I was diagnosed with the dreaded hepatitis, which so many travelers contracted. But I was out of the hospital in two weeks because my case was not so serious and entrenched. The doctor said that I would most likely have a relapse if I traveled too soon because I really need to rest. I was able, through the help of the kind coordinator of the American Center, to find a room to rent, and two jobs where I made an excellent income compared to U.S. rates. I saved enough money to buy a return ticket to the U.S. when I left four months later, funds to pay my expenses for the last leg of my journey in Europe, and even have savings when I got to the states.
When I left Meshad after a good long rest of 3 months, I was ready to go home. But still, ever yearning to save money, I sought the cheapest and fastest method to get back to Europe. I heard that going to a truck stop and finding a truck driver going to Europe would yield a free ride. With little hesitation, I followed this advice, and was able to miraculously get to Switzerland with two different truckers.
I recall now as I write this how I ended up going to the East. I was originally going to visit Europe, and started my trip in Mannheim, Germany. After 3 weeks of traveling around this town and the Odenwald, I realized that something was missing. When my sister, who was working in Mannheim advised me, “Go to India—it’s cheap and exotic—that is where my spiritual pilgrimage really started. Once again, I received divine guidance even though I didn’t believe in God.
My spirits were pretty high when I traveled in Europe. It was so easy to be away from all the suffering, the constant strain of being a white woman in countries where often men saw me as an object rather than a person. In spite of all the wonderful hospitality extended to me by mostly Muslims, and which I feel grateful for even to this day, I was ready to be a place that was more familiar. I had thought about staying in India and dedicating my life to helping the poor, but after I left Sri Lanka, all that was within me said, “You belong in America. Go home.”
It took me four months to get to America, but finally I was on the flight home. It was there that perhaps the most profound revelation in my life occurred. Out of nowhere, just sitting on the plane, I sense the words, “The only way you will be happy is to serve, and serve in ways that bring joy to you.” At that time the books “Do What You Love , The Money Will Follow,” or “The Purpose Driven Life” had not been written. I had never in my church upbringing heard of the concept of spiritual gifts, and how they could be used joyfully for service. I still didn’t know what my gifts were. I liked to sing, but really hadn’t done much of that when I left the church at age 16. I liked to write, but I didn’t think I had much talent. I liked to meet new people and see new things, but certainly that didn’t seem like much of a gift. Yet the God I didn’t believe in, but was starting to open myself up to, revealed this beautiful truth to me when I was only 20 years old.
When I arrived in the United States, I finally broke up with my boyfriend. Even though I had sex with a handful of men while traveling, completely disregarding the fact that I was in a committed relationship, I had given Benjie the impression that it was okay for him to wait for me. We became Facebook friends about five years ago, when I was 56. Two months ago, at age 61, forty years after I finally broke off the relationship I called him. I felt so deeply repentant of the way I treated him, I needed to make amends. The story Benjie told me of how I was so cold when I returned, and how hurt he was since he had kept hanging on to hope for the 13 months I was gone, grieved me. I asked him to forgive me for all my wrongs, including affairs with other men when we were in a committed relationship before I left, and he readily forgave me. He is a strong Christian, happily married, and I was glad to be able to understand the depths of my disconnect with my heart and do my best to make amends. He said that our conversation helped his healing. I have decided not to connect any more since he is married, other than occasional interactions on Facebook. But I pray for him and yearn for God’s best for him. And he did give me permission to share the story publicly.