The profound comfort of home is based in time. At home, there is an ongoing present that exists beyond the back of your own skull. This expansive present encompasses daily ritual, neighbors, familiar tastes and smells, beloved objects, habits of work, and the shared experience of reality that impels us to cut the grass, recycle, donate to the local animal shelter, and make friends with the people on our street. To know that things are happening here now, this is my life is a comfort that cannot be overstated.
The traveler’s present is limited to the most immediate environment—an encounter with time that encompasses only her own experience, and perhaps that of a traveling companion. For the ill traveler, that present shrinks in even tighter—the bed, a glass of water, the bathroom. Being alone in this echoing Now is the definition of loneliness. But it is also a quiet, peaceful space, from which our world can sometimes be seen anew.
As I hurtle towards Taipei in this richly appointed and spotlessly clean aircraft, the music of the Chinese language lulls me. I am moving away from the present of Bali—the heavy, wet air, the zipping motorbikes, the many versions of the same dog, the stone god-faces, the billions of flowers, the tiny offerings tucked into their own individual bamboo baskets. Bali. You fade away from me now, already. A new friend; a teacher. A reminder of what is.
These last ten days have brought the kind of changes that mean, as a dear friend wrote me today, that some things will never be quite the same again. This is true not only on the largest scale (Japan, Libya), but, for me, on the most personal scale as well. My home hoop community, from which the life I now live was born, undergoes its own series of earthquakes. My life in Brooklyn loses its very heart as my dearest girl makes a new life elsewhere. The immediate future suddenly looks very different. Where are we headed? What is important? These are questions that were nowhere near me when I left ten (twelve?) days ago.
Right now I move backward in time. Today, March 23rd, 2011, for me will last 46 hours. On my way here, I lost March 11th, 2011, entirely. I made a great leap into the future. And it seemed that the world made a massive and unsteady leap itself—towards even bigger shifts in power, resources, and security that affect every single person on this planet.
In the Denpasar airport I saw a beautiful book of black & white photographs of Bali in the 1930s. In that time, within my grandmother’s memory, women went about naked to the waist, wearing only the sarong—something unthinkable in Bali today. The traffic in Ubud has exploded in the last two years—no one can park, there is not enough room for all the cars and motorbikes to pass. But in many other ways the community thrives, having a new middle class and many opportunities for women. Nothing is ever simple.
Yesterday Khan, Jaguar Mary, Jocelyn, Anah and I visited the Mother Temple, for some the most holy place of worship in all of Bali. The temple was built in 700 C.E. Thirteen hundred years ago. One original wall remains—I touched a brick with the tip of my finger. But surely particles of subatomic matter that precede the wall by an inconceivable margin swirl within every breath that I take—even my own body must contain such matter. Is anything really new?
From a gateway (only worshippers were allowed within certain sacred spaces) I watched a temple dancer shake his long, white, frightening mask-hair—his long nails piercing the air like quivering needles. I peered at the highest priestess in her white white high-collared shirt, her black hair pulled back severely, her brown face impassive and tranquil. Our driver Dewa told us the story of the founding priest of the Mother Temple, a Japanese Hindu. The temples are guarded by dragons—represented by immense whips of braided bamboo. The stone gods all over Bali wear skirts of black and white checkered cloth—because good and evil must both be acknowledged, and befriended too.
Bali has changed me. I am aware of scale in a way I have never before been. I am aware of time, of place. These concepts once seemed to me too abstract to even think about. I used to have to have a face—a human face, a human life—as my reference point. What did it matter if it hadn’t happened to somebody somewhere at some specific moment? The narrative thinking of a born reader. It seems almost cute to me now—the way children need a bedtime story. My early mind needed the same kind of story.
Now, I feel the immediacy of our predicament on this planet. It is a predicament. Of course, we have always been in some sort of pickle—people have always been dying, after all. I cannot say exactly what this means for me. But I know this change has gone through me like dye. And the world seems so sweet, and so incalculably precious.