Embracing the Ultimate Unknown

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My mother and I have always wanted to travel to India. There is something about that land and the spirituality that exists within and around its borders that are like a siren call to us. Plus, the saris are beautiful, the people seem so at peace with the world and most follow a vegetarian diet.

Well, I am currently finishing up a book about one woman’s experience as an expat there in the early 2000s, and my Disney-fied, romantic, “it will be like living The Darjeeling Limited”, ill-informed view of India has been popped. Given my mother and my personalities based off of this woman’s experience of years living in India, that country would not at all be for us. But what is still appealing about the country, based on the author’s story, is the Indian embrace of death within life.

I understand why most of us in our country fear death – it is an unknown and we have been socialized to dispel and despise unknowns. We live in a land of order (or at least we try to order and control as much as we can) and when our sense of order is shaken or taken from us, we panic and cannot deal. We are shaken, we are scared, we despair. I cannot exclude myself from feeling that inner chaos when order has been taken from me, but I am working on dispelling any fear of uncertainty and that is where the continued appeal of India comes in.

The author talks about her own jarring culture shock at the Indian culture of organized chaos, and of the Indian melding of life with death. Meaning, that their death is not hidden from them. She talks about lepers walking the streets of New Dehli, fatalities lying in the street, and the existence of aghori sadhus – a small group of ascetics living in charnel grounds whose often macabre practices demonstrate the Aghoris’ acceptance of death as a necessary and natural part of the human experience. At the core of all this is the general understanding that death is what we were born to do, that all living beings die and once we can accept that, we can carry-on, gain some wisdom and truly see this reality in all its beauty. I think that is a valuable lesson to learn.

Is it possible to learn this lesson without embracing the world outside my own? Is it possible to gain wisdom such as this without exploring things beyond my comfort zone and allowing it to shake up my life? That answer is obviously “no” and this is why I value literature, new experience and (as much as I also push back against it) change. This is also why I so highly value the public library, because while foreign travel is not open to me right now, I can still learn from the experiences of others and use their wisdom to gain some of my own. I do not know about you, but I strive to be as empathetic, accepting, calm and open as I can be in this life – with or without travelling to India – and literature provides me with the tools to work on that.

-Samantha Hanchett, Marketing Coordinator

*Please note that the opinions of “Thoughts” are just that and do not necessarily represent the views of the Thomas County Public Library


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