“Is hang gliding the one that looks like a parachute?” asked the young woman at the lunch table.
“No,” said Sandra Grantham with authority. “A hang glider is more like a kite and you are suspended horizontally underneath. You control your flight with a bar.” She explained that you learn at the beach running on little baby dunes, and progress to ever higher hills. “My goal was to take off from from Glacier Point in Yosemite, the only place in Yosemite you can hang glide from. But you had to be a Hang 4 and I was only rated a Hang 3.”
A crash while hang gliding damaged Sandra’s hearing—“Have you been to England before?” she asked me, because she heard “England” instead of “India”. Now then I HAVE been to England, so that sent our conversation sideways for a little bit, but we found our way back as we will here now. Sandra was positive that the crash had been caused by her equipment. Something had prevented her from controlling the craft properly. “The owner of the shop didn’t believe me, so he took my kite out himself for a flight.
“He came back white,” having nearly crashed badly. The vertical supports, in fact, were completely out of alignment.
Was it that she’s a woman? Or was it the white hair? Sandra didn’t say exactly how long ago this happened, but in the telling it sounded recent. Sandra is 74, lives in nearby Niles, California, and, unlike many of us, has no need for the folderol of hair color. Or, it seems, folderol of any kind. “Have you been here before?” I asked, meaning 1440 Multiversity, where we are taking Brave Magic, with Cheryl Strayed and Elizabeth Gilbert.
“Oh yes,” said Sandra, “I was here right after they opened last year, for Zen Tango.”
Zen Tango. I just let that sink in.
I love mealtimes here, and not just for the fresh food I do not have to prepare or clean up. Every table is a community table. The conversation meanders all over: current events, creativity, science, the miracle of being here,—“I feel like I’m having an affair with myself” said Susan from Massachusetts—, children, careers, hang gliding, travel and even shopping.
Especially shopping WHILE traveling. I like to buy things I can actually use. I once bought almond extract from Country Cupboard in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, because I knew that every time I used it (which is only for cheesecake) I would remember visiting Jessamyn as a freshman at Bucknell. Marmalade from England—not India—provides the same memory hit. So do the little ebony earrings I got for a dollar at a flea market in Zambia. I thought they were so cheap it wouldn’t matter if I lost them. But costing a dollar has become part of their charm.
“I was on a world cruise,” said Sandra, “and our very first port of call was Bali. In the market I fell in love with a pair of beautiful carved wooden hands.” Sandra positioned her polish-free hands elegantly a foot in front of her face. “I loved those hands. I love hands in general and I was working as a massage therapist then. But Bali was our very first stop. I thought I’m on a WORLD CRUISE, and I can’t buy everything I like. But I so much regretted not getting those hands.”
I still remember the outfit in the shop window 20 years ago in Edinburgh. When I went back later the shop was closed. And then I had to catch my flight. And I especially remember the reclining Buddha from my last trip to India. It was exquisite, white marble, somewhere between 80 and 120 years old. It was a little expensive, of course it was. It was also heavy, even though it was only about ten inches high. How would it do in shipping? I was also tired and overwhelmed. I had bought a number of things already and the store itself was enormous, a warehouse that went on and on, sensory overload to the max. The opposite of zen tango, or at least my vision of zen tango. Some pieces in the place were new, made for Restoration Hardware, for example, and some were old. Some were relics, figures from old temples, and some were trinkets for a bazaar, already falling apart. I didn’t have enough faith in the moment to respond to the Buddha that called to me.
I started to share this but Sandra stopped me.
“No. No. There’s more to hands story! At the end of the cruise the ship organized a white elephant sale for people to get rid of the things they’d purchased that they didn’t want. So of course I went. And there were my hands!”
I laughed, quite sure my Buddha is not going to appear at a white elephant sale. Then again, I am only a Hang 3 shopper.
Sandra is definitely a Hang 4.