Letters from Bharat

December 30,
Somewhere over the Mediterranean

I’m off on my third trip to India, with 18 students and my colleague Jen Letherer. By the time we arrive at our hotel in Mumbai (Bombay), we will have spent almost 36 hours traveling: 5 hours by bus from Spring Arbor to Chicago, 6 hours waiting in the international terminal at O’Hare, 14 hours on the first leg of the flight, to Doha, a 3 hour layover, 5 hours for the last leg to Mumbai, getting through the airport and to our hotel.

I’m 63, so I guess it’s fair to ask why I do this.

I think Helen, one of the students, understands part of it. She chose the India trip because she wanted to get out of her comfort zone. She chose wisely. And even at my age I’m motivated by this to some degree. One of my concerns about aging is getting in a comfortable rut—and there is nothing comfortable about this.

But, since it is my third trip, there is more to it that that. It is not uncomfortable in the same sense. The first time I went, also with Jen, I just barely got my bearings, what things are called, how things work (or don’t work). And last year I went with my wife Katie, and some of the pieces started to come together—the cultural forces, the distinctive motivations. The cacophony of colors and tastes and smells is not quite as overwhelming.

So my goal this trip is to make sure I got it right, or at least that I’m on the right track. It’s the beginning of a second cycle in a way, observe and learn. Since Jen is the team leader this year, I can observe again. Perhaps the connections will come faster. It’s only 3 weeks, however. And I’ll never be an expert; I’m not Indian after all.

But I can understand more and teach better, and maybe what I can teach better has little to do with India itself. What I can teach is to withhold judgment, pay more attention, extend grace. And I can be changed, becoming a more thoughtful observer even when I’m home, a more patient listener, a more compassionate man.

India can teach me these things, as long as I’m teachable.

So the journey begins.




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