Jean wearily observed an old magician in a purple hat and white shoes try to entertain ambivalent commuters as she began to sweat on the jam-packed rush hour train. It was only two stops until the transfer and she was grateful to escape the suffocating atmosphere of tired business men and grouchy school children. She was confident that she would arrive at the airport early but the excitement of a weekend away by the sea was overwhelming and she sped off the train, up the escalator, and onto the next platform, dejected at having just missed the connection and having to wait a whole five minutes. Jean knew she had no reason to be impatient but that had never stopped her before. Her father had instilled in her at a young age the undisputed truth that “if you aren’t early, you’re late” and this had grown to an all-consuming obsession.
Barely more than an hour later she found herself a short distance from gate forty two at Barajas International Airport where she ate the still-warm pasta and carrots with carbonara sauce she had packed in anticipation of that exact moment. Jean was not at all regretful that she had arrived at the gate almost ninety minutes early, she hated being rushed more than anything and yet the relaxing sensation of passing security with extra time had been too intoxicating and she had worked up a sweat with that rushed quick-step she had preferred ever since learning how to walk.
After a satisfying hour of people watching and vacation-type musings about the nature of human beings and their various travel rituals, Jean snuck a look at her boarding pass for the twentieth time and noticed for the first time the cute little word “priority” printed next to her seat number. For a moment she was confused, and worried that the airline had somehow tricked her into buying an upgrade, but she reassured herself that she was astute enough to prevent such a thing and she happily wandered over to the front of the extraordinarily long line. Jean was proud that she had resisted the temptation to wait in line with the other passengers. She had known the seats were already assigned and that it was better to wait for take off at the boarding gate than inside the stuffy airplane filled with nervous Spaniards and non-reclining seats, but the pride of jumping such a long line quickly charmed her into spending those few precious minutes aboard the plane.
After a friendly conversation with the flight attendant about being placed in the last row, Jean settled into her aisle seat, grateful it was a night flight and she wouldn’t miss anything out the window. At take off she was charmed to notice the young man to her left and the middle-aged woman to her right worriedly cross themselves, shyly belying their anxieties about hurtling through space in a tin can. Jean smiled, she had always loved flying and had never been persuaded to fear airplanes.
Two and a half hours and sixty percent of a book later, Jean found herself on the soil of Gran Canaria. She gratefully looked up at the moon as she waited for the bus that would take her to Las Palmas and the cheap hostel where she would spend the next three nights. The light drizzle made her nervous but had anyone been there with her, they would have seen the most natural spark of divine joy in her eyes the first moment Jean caught sight of the sea. For months her bones had ached for that moment, it was a deep longing to visit this old friend that had encouraged Jean to spontaneously arrange the island getaway. She hadn’t quite been able to afford the weekend but knew that she could afford even less the despair that would accompany even one more month away from the ocean, which her soul had come to love and need.
The Atlantic Ocean had a different color on the African side, she noticed the next morning as she compared the endless strip of coast to the beaches she had lived beside for the first eighteen years of her life. Jean was glad she had come alone, her only roommate was a Swedish-Israeli girl on a world tour who slept with crystals and did yoga moves in the corner of their dorm room and now it was a great blessing to be led along the best parts of the island by someone who had already been there for three weeks. The girl with the dancing tree tattoo on her arm was also enchanted by the island’s turquoise blue waves and correctly guessed Jean was a Cancer, quickly revealing that she was a Scorpio, another passionate water sign.
The two girls meandered slowly through the Euro-African city and chatted about life with startling ease. Their conversation moved from architecture to hashish to love and sex with graceful leaps and bounds, they felt their watery personalities mix with ease as their histories and opinions flowed into and through one-another. No question was too probing and no insight was too deep. Neither one of them thought about how they had only known one another for three hours as they walked in the sun discussing globalization, immigration, and God.
When Jean’s soul had begun to sing too loudly for her to think, she suggested they stop to take some sun by the side of the most beautiful beach she had ever seen — actually she couldn’t tell if it was the most beautiful, Greece, Tunisia, and Italy were all pretty hard to top, but that was the biggest of her troubles — and the two girls happily stripped off the clothes that were only a social formality to them. Blanket spread and shoes abandoned, Jean grabbed her camera and darted towards the sea, not knowing what she would find but knowing she needed to remember it forever.
After a sun salutation and more than a hundred photos, Jean returned to her new friend, stunned by the incomprehensible beauty of the beach she had suddenly found herself on. Less than twenty hours ago she had been in a classroom in Madrid, silently begging teenagers to participate in her English lesson. Propped up on her elbows, unable to take her eyes off of the crashing swells and elegant hills in front of her, she noticed the page of a tattered book blowing past her. She grabbed it and returned it to her friend, but not before noting what was written on it. The only phrase she recognized among the Hebrew characters was a prayer that seemed to glow on the page, lokah samasta sukino bavantu.
May all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may my thoughts, words, and actions contribute in some way to their happiness and freedom, she automatically thought, remembering the hundreds of yoga practices she had ended with this same chant back in Philly. Jean thought of how long it had been since she had intoned this beloved phrase and couldn’t help but smile to herself at all the ways the Universe has of reminding us when we are walking the right path. Her own ability to note those messages and listen to her inner voice had increased exponentially over the past five months and she felt soothed by the sudden appearance of this familiar mantra on a remote beach just west of the African coast. The synchronicity was just too much to be a mere coincidence.
Truthfully, it had been the happiness she wished to bring others which had brought Jean to this shore. Jean was smart enough to know that she would be of no use to anyone if she lost herself in social outings and pressure-filled workdays like she had done back in America and the trip to the Canary Islands had been an act of loving kindness and compassion that she knew few people would understand. It was out of character for her to sacrifice financial security for a whim of a vacation. Amazed and filled with love, Jean shared her connection to the mantra with her strangely familiar new friend. The young American melted with joy when she heard the laughing response, “I told you, we’re soul sisters!”
She knew she had made a precious new friend and thanked whatever force had encouraged her to come here. Simultaneously, she prayed for the guidance to continue on such a rewarding path, for her own sake and so much more.