In October 2000, I traveled to Egypt as a tourist. Her sun-kissed, gritty breeze brushed back my hair exposing my upturned face to the scent of her essence. A sense of peace, one that had seemed to stop at the house next door instead of mine, cuddled me in gales of joy. It was as if I’d come face-to-face with the mother of my dreams, the one I had lost but silently yearned for. My soul recognized her immediately; my heart and eyes soon followed.
When I looked down, just above where the tips of my Travel Smith sandals were in the process of creating sensible ridges in the sand, a perfect imprint of a lotus flower appeared. A symbol of spiritual unfolding, it winked at me in the condensed morning sunlight. I stood frozen, my body swaying slowly in the shock of recognition. My eyes darted about, searching for others. “Surely it’s a print made by a high-tech sneaker,” I whispered. But it was the only one. Like the echo of laughter on a mountaintop, “Welcome home,” bounced against the cells of my befuddled mind. The words traveled downward like a melody that spontaneously makes your toes wiggle and your feet perform a dance you never learned, but somehow have never forgotten.
Before my trip was completed, I knew I would relocate there. Within four months, Egypt became my home.
I followed an inner knowledge so deep and pure, even the terror of the drastic change I was about to make failed to deter me. I was fifty-four years old, spirited and single. My children were launched and my dog had moved on to celestial fire hydrants. If I lived frugally until my property in Washington D.C. sold, I had just enough money in the bank to cover my expenses. As a writer, I needed only my brain, a computer, a printer, and a phone line. I could work anywhere. I planned to stay for six months and then move on to Rhode Island. God and Egypt had other plans for me.
The reaction to my decision to relocate to a country over eight thousand miles away from my children and family caused telephones across the United States to overheat. Everyone worried about my safety, perhaps also my sanity. Some thought I was experiencing a crazed menopausal moment; others sighed and shook their heads, convinced that their mother, aunt, or sister was simply lapsing back into her role as the family’s version of a New Age "Auntie Mame."
Most of my friends, the majority of whom share my dedication to spirituality, clapped their hands with elation while waving away the threads of trepidation that had them questioning whether or not they would have the same "courage" and faith to do what I was doing. Everyone, no matter how tepid or delighted, looked forward to living vicariously through me. I never felt courageous, only grateful to have the opportunity to track with my inner wisdom, secure in the knowledge that my journey would be an astonishing one.
After returning home from my trip, I packed up my life and placed it in storage. I deposited my four-unit building into the hands of a Realtor. I wrote a new will, arranged for on-line banking, lassoed my eldest son into managing my personal affairs, and began to say goodbye to everyone and everything I loved.
There was much I would miss: the sound, the touch, and the sight of my boys and the tender wisdom and blissful love of my family, friends, and teachers. I’d also miss my gentle tenants—men and women who supported my dream despite the tornado of havoc it inflicted upon their lives.
The week before the movers arrived in their unique version of a moving van, I walked through my apartment and inhaled the sight of the possessions I most cherished: my mother’s pressed-glass cake stands, my father’s pipes that still bear his scent and teeth marks, one grandmother’s brass candlesticks and the other’s delicately engraved silver sugar spoon. The Christmas ornaments that still dazzled me as they had when I was a child, the footrest in the shape of a cow I’d found at a craft fair, and the too large collection of paintings and prints I’d begun collecting before my children’s first shoes had been bronzed, were packed with special care.
After my ex-husband moved out, taking with him the luxurious furnishings that defined his self-image, I created a space that reflected the newly cherished and emerging me. I made carpets out of canvas. I searched for and found furniture designed to fit my curves, no one else’s. I frequented the outdoor market a stone’s throw from my apartment and wheeled home tired cabinets and cupboards rescued from historic homes undergoing the agony of restoration. Hours of dedicated stripping, sanding, and painting provided a background for the whimsy bubbling to be released from within me.
Upon seeing the transformation of the home he had never lived in, only visited, my youngest son reflected, “Mom. This doesn’t look like you!” A smile slid across my face like cake batter spilled onto a freshly waxed floor. “Ah, but it is me,” I beamed.
Soon, my garden, the midlife child I had molded from raw earth, would begin to awaken from a fretful sleep anxious to tantalize me with its ever-changing horizon of hues and textures. But I would no longer be there to cheer it on, to feed it with my tender words and the compost nature prepared in massive batches for its nourishment.
The night before I was due to leave, I said goodbye to the small periwinkle room that served as my office, library, and infrequently used guestroom. I went through every space and thanked each for its warmth, comfort, security, and refuge. I put on a warm jacket and said goodbye to my small front garden, the boastful one that everyone who passed by declared the most beautiful in the neighborhood. Then I went to the big garden, Monet’s palette hidden behind a private gateway. I sat in the frosty marble chips on a walkway I’d nearly dislocated my back creating, and wept.
My sense of loss caused my body to convulse with a riptide of fear that threatened to suck me down and toss me off course. I looked upward and focused upon the crisp spring sky and felt the current of my resistance retreat until I was delivered onto the shore of surrender. The tears of loss turned into a river of joy for what I was about to experience and gratitude for all that God had already given me. I thanked the garden, the sun that made it strong, and the rain that cleansed and nourished it. I even thanked the squirrels that had tormented me with their voracious appetite for yet another newly planted exotic bulb; then I walked away. Forever.
After protracted international flights and connection delays, accompanied by four suitcases overflowing with a few beloved books, staples, clothing, and my laptop, I arrived in Cairo. It was March 11, 2001—exactly six months before 9/11.