One of the joys of travel is that it immediately returns you to kindergarten or toddlerhood. Stripped of the comfort cloak of shared language, everyday tasks take on enormous challenge and adventure, requiring intense observational skills, pointing, and willingness to be humbled constantly. Being In a new city with a new language to us, with a new alphabet to us, makes ordering lunch, catching the bus, and even crossing the street a new experience. It’s this stripping of confidence and competence that I so enjoy in travel. We celebrate each success, each new skill, each new meal. We see so much more than everyday in the first days of attending Mongolian kindergarten. Our eyes and hearts and souls are more open that often and we are invited to rethink everything we think we know.
Another joy of travel is the groundless bardo that often begins when we enter the aluminum tubes with wings that act as time machines and turn us back from adulthood with full vocabularies and ability to express ourselves to bumbling youngsters who grow leaps and bounds each day. The bardo that place between here and there, home and away, life and death, here and now. A place as well can invite reflection and anticipation and hopes and dreams or withdrawal and disappointment and nightmares.
Marian and I have been in the bardo for the past three days. We’ve been unable to plan or hope or know. Our only option has been to enjoy the now, the here, the micro adventures of Ulaanbataar. Instead of flying on Tuesday with our team to Western Mongolia to climb Mongolia’s highest peak, I was hooked up to an IV receiving antibiotics for a persistent hand/wrist infection. The long flight somehow unleashed some nasty bugs on Hand #2 interrupting what was otherwise, a stellar recovery. I immediately started oral antibiotics upon arrival and the initial response was excellent. By day four, I thought all was well and we were packed and ready to head west. The afternoon before we were headed out, I noticed some pain in my wrist and a small red spot. My crack home med team had warned me to watch for anything south of the initial infection and I was immediately filled with dread.
I wished it away. I tried to ignore it. But by the time we got back to the city late that afternoon, I knew something was on the go. I knew I couldn’t ethically continue onto such a remote climb without getting checked out by a doctor. We quickly rushed around and got seen at the ER at the newest hospital in UB. The doc confirmed my suspicions and suggested that I change antibiotics and see a surgeon in the morning for a second opinion. I was worried both about my health, but also about the impact on the team if I decided to go with them and the infection got worse and I had to be evacuated, it could ruin everyone’s experience.
Marian and I had a sleepless night considering our options since we’d had three very different opinions from three different sources: go, don’t go, maybe go. Like the classic ditch/highway Buddhist analogy we try to find the middle way. We opted for down the middle and hoped to get clearance to go with a last minute dash to the airport. It wasn’t to be. Initially the surgeon said I had to go home to Canada then he offered the IV antibiotic route as a way to salvage our trip. We thought about it and decided to give his plan a chance and so we’ve been in the bardo since then.
I had my third treatment of IV antibiotics this morning and we meet with the surgeon in the morning-there are three possible outcomes: 1) He sends me back to Canada for surgical drainage of the area :-(, 2) He suggests two more days of IV antibiotics and then a re-check or 3) He is pleased with the treatment and transitions me back to oral antibiotics and we try to get out of UB for a few days before meeting back up with the group in a week. We are, of course, hoping for option 3) but will settle for option 2). Option 1) will be crushing on so many levels. It was such a disappointment to have to make the adult (opposite of kindergarten) decision to stay back from the climb as we’d been planning for this climb since 2013 that I hope we don’t have to face scrapping all of our fall plans to return to St. John’s for a second surgery.
But as my Oma always said, “What comes, comes.” I can’t undo the decision to have Hand #2 fixed. I can’t undo a long flight from Toronto to Beijing. I can’t undo any of it. I can only try to find the small moments of joy and adventure in learning to take the bus, order hot pot soup, or recognize some pattens in Cyrillic letters that mean something. I can lean on my one of my favourite Lojong slogans, “whichever of the two occurs, be patient.” I can visit museums, eat dumplings, and try to sleep amid the fears of loss of health and loss of adventure. I can’t believe I’m sitting in yet another hotel room writing yet another “climb interrupted” missive. But I am. And that’s okay. Probably the greatest gift of all this is keeping it all in perspective, deepening my practice of compassion, and embracing the multiplicities of bardo kindergarten.