To India, and back to be NBC Scholar

The Fab Four were kicking off the ‘60s revolution back home. I was teaching English—and also, improbably, French—at a conservative missionary school high in the Himalayan foothills, fresh out of hippie New York. India grabbed my heart from the start. A year-long torrid affair with an Anglo-India musician (revisited in my book) added to the allure. And it also almost got me kicked out.

During the long cold winter break, I traveled Mother India in third-class trains, part of the time with him. Little did I know I was whetting my appetite for an Indian guru or two—and plenty of yoga—to come. Two hearts were broken when I left at the end of the year.

Back home, I tried the next thing girls like me did before a husband and kids—grad school. Without so much as a phone, I’d managed the long-distance, handwritten correspondence required to land myself the NBC Scholarship at Penn’s Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania. Sounded good, and I ran an A-plus average once I got there.

In my last year, I got bored to death, not least with my pointless film criticism thesis. I walked away from my MA into a series of jobs in advertising, public television and more. The best job by far was as an education columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer—a really lucky break.

But I outgrew even that great gig. By then, I’d met Trond, the lovely Norwegian architect I soon asked to marry me. I moved into the town house he was renovating at the edge of the ghetto.

Eighteen months later, we were robbed by our (white) next door neighbors while bringing our first baby home from the hospital. We sold that cute, just-redone house and left Philadelphia for an old farm 100 miles from everything I’d used to define myself. What was I thinking (again)?

A deathwatch and a depression

I wasn’t thinking. I was letting the Universe think for me. I was letting it set me down in a place and on a path where I’d have to learn to face myself without the cheering mirrors familiar people provide. Then Lucy died and I got to look myself hard in the mirror as never before or since.

My decision to sit bedside for the hideous cancer death of Lucy Solomon Marr was the most courageous, life-changing thing I ever chose to do. And it nearly killed me, too.

I had no idea what I was getting into when I headed to New York after Lucy’s husband called to say she was back in the hospital. Sitting anxiously in a Sloan-Kettering waiting room the day I arrived, I watched a sunken skeleton of a woman being rolled out in a wheelchair, like an apparition of death. Though it had only been two months since I’d last seen Lucy, I didn’t recognize the ashen face of my best friend as an aide wheeled her forward to greet me. Read more…