It took 36 hours, 4 flights, a week in a city I had never heard of just months ago, and a long bus-ride into the countryside, heading toward a small village in Southern India to find my stairway. And it had been carved out of stone into the hillside around 1,000 years ago. For me. For any local worshipper, or any wandering pilgrim. On this bus-ride, outside the chaos of the jungle-city of Bangalore, I finally had time to reflect how far I had come. Not just the miles, but my own personal journey.
The countryside was rolling by my window seat as our bus carried us (we were a pack of university students studying Social Justice) outside of Bangalore to Hassan. It finally occurred to me that I had made it to India…and had survived the first week. No, more than that — I had conquered my fears and was soaking up all that Bangalore was becoming to me. I knocked the door right off its hinges and came charging through. For the first time, I was truly proud of myself. But in many ways, I was also terrified of what it all meant: going back to college, traveling to India, and leaving my little girl, Layla behind. I was not afraid of doing any of those things but I was terrified of going against the grain or having my mothering skills and personal judgment questioned. “Don’t you know that there is poverty in India?” and “Your poor husband, how is he going to take care of Layla all by himself?” or, my personal favorite: “What a nice vacation from Layla!” Despite all of that nonsense, I found freedom within myself on my journey to India.
And now to MY stairway.
The students I had traveled with filed out of our bus and we were instructed to remove our shoes and wash our feet. After we unloaded our belongings, armed with our cameras and clean feet, we approached the rock staircase carefully carved into the side of the daunting land-rise before us. And we climbed and climbed and climbed. Local worshippers passed us, we stood aside as 4 men carried an old woman down the steep stairway after she had done with her rituals atop in the stone-carved temple above. I turned around and looked at the ancient mosque atop the hillside opposite our perch. I was in awe. My mind and my soul were silenced as my feet plodded left-right, up the hill.
I reached the top, inhaled the haunting elixir on the quiet breeze of old moldy stones, incense, and a little marijuana. I was free. I realized I had left all the fear and uncertainty down at the bottom and I knew I had conquered it all – travel preparations, the stairs, breaking the mould, living the life I was meant to. From there, my journey had begun. I would not live as I was expected to by the world, the culture, the family, the community around me. No, I would live with my husband the life we were called to. I would take these lessons I had learned on my way to this place, and everywhere after with me. I would write them on the hearts of my children. I would live a life that is separate and undefiled by the world around me – something holy and fully committed. My family would serve the underprivileged women and children in our community the best way we could. Providing safety and support.
And I am trying to, 10 years later, imperfectly and with a 1,000 miles of other stairways into other unknown realms. I often feel like a foreigner in my own community. Maybe it doesn’t matter. Because I am still there in the Southern Indian countryside, still learning here at home in my community, finding my lessons, conquering stairways into places my neighbors tend not to go. And if I am not, then I have forgotten what India became to me and I have lost my way.