Tomorrow my mom flies to Paris. Paris. My favorite city in the world. The city I lived in for a year during college. The city where my husband proposed and where he took me several years ago for a magical week of celebrating having survived our children’s early years. A city I will never tire of.
My mother is meeting my sister, sister-in-law and niece for a long weekend. All of the women in my immediate family will be together. Everyone but me. Of course I was invited. But even at my most robust a trip from San Francisco to Paris for such a short period of time would probably do me in. The jet-lag alone would keep me in my hotel bed for most of the stay. By the time I recovered it would be time to head home. And I’m not at my most robust right now. So I had to decline. But that doesn’t mean I don’t daydream about wandering the streets for hours on end; lying in the grass at the Place des Vosges; grabbing a bite at a charming café; sitting on the steps of the Sacré Coeur at night to admire the twinkling lights below; dropping a few Euros for a Nutella crepe prepared by a street vendor (in my dreams I don’t have Celiac); and most importantly, spending time with some of my favorite women. I have some experience with trips that haven’t gone my way, and these experiences brought me to the wise but painful conclusion that it would be best if I didn’t join my family in Paris.
In the spring of 2013 I met up with my sister in London, halfway between Marin County and Kigali, Rwanda (where she and her family live). I had some reservations about going, as I hadn’t been feeling well for several weeks and was worried about the toll a trip like that would take on me. But I hated the thought of missing out on time with my sister as I only see her once a year, so I decided to go for it. Fate was not on my side. A day or two in I almost fainted while at a local cafe. I later developed constant nausea and ended up spending much of the trip in bed. It was a huge letdown for both of us.
The following spring I tried again. My husband, kids and I decided to visit my sister and her family in Rwanda. I was feeling better than I had a year earlier and was excited about spending time in Africa again. My husband and I thought it would be a wonderful opportunity for our children to experience this very different part of the world. And it was wonderful…for everyone but me. My weakened immune system paved the way for me to catch a violent stomach bug, and I was sick for a good chunk of the trip. While my family played games and splashed in the pool I was in bed, in a dark room, with a bucket by my side. I did manage to drag myself out for a water safari, which was spectacular. But most of the trip was miserable. Those experiences have made me gun shy about attempting exotic adventures.
A little part of my heart breaks when I can’t participate in gatherings with loved ones. This is one of the things that is hardest to accept when it comes to my health. Knowing that my family members will be exploring the City of Light without me is, frankly, depressing. I will allow myself a good cry. Then I will wipe away the tears, take a few deep, cleansing breaths, and send my gals heartfelt wishes for a wonderful trip. I know that my mother and sister will bring a piece of me with them.
In the wonderful book, “How to be Sick,” author Toni Bernhard writes about a tool she uses to manage her sadness over being unable to participate in the activities she loves. She practices cultivating the Buddhist mental state of mudita: sympathetic joy; joy in the joy of others. When she hears about someone who is planning a wonderful adventure that she would not be able to enjoy she tries to feel joy for that person, thinking about how much he or she will get out of the experience. At first this didn’t come easily. She had to fake it until she made it. However, as she practiced mudita over and over she experienced a shift from feeling envy about missing out on something to feeling genuine joy for those experiencing it. So I have decided to experiment. I say to myself, “How wonderful that the women in my family will get to spend time together in one of the most beautiful and charming cities on earth.” The words don’t bring me instant enlightenment, but it does feel good to say them aloud. It will take time to cultivate mudita, but I see the value in the practice.