The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

My father was always scheming, always exploring, always day-dreaming.  When his eighty-year-old brain failed to grasp and retain current information, he reverted to plans, planted long ago in his fertile mind, which might explain his late life obsession with Egypt.

Although Dad’s checkbook lay atop his desk, his bank account had been closed when he entered assisted living.  He had lost his driver’s license for driving through too many stop signs and parking his truck in the middle of the road.  Nevertheless, he was determined to go to Egypt.  He would call his travel agent and tell her to research tours to Egypt.  This kind woman would play along, over and over.  It was his final trip to somewhere exotic, and to nowhere.

He’d call me and say, “I’m going to Egypt.  I set it up today.”  I would ask when he was going.  He’d drift off for a few minutes into another story and then tell me again he was going to Egypt.  “I’ve always wanted to go to Egypt.”

Egypt was Dad’s Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

I’d like to believe everyone desires magical moments, some spark of libidinous joy, something marvelous and wonderful, not just the recognition of such moments, but also their creation.

I’ve always wanted to tell the story of one elderly woman who chose not to tell her visitors on the day of her birthday that she had discovered her caretaker had predeceased her that morning.  Why spoil a perfectly good day with the dreadful news that Rosa was dead in an adjoining room?

The white-haired mother of a friend — we’ll call the mother Miriam — cannot be left alone at all, especially now that Miriam wants to kiss strange men in restaurants and stores.  We learned long ago to appreciate this sweet woman’s sense of humor and warmth.  I imagine she had always entertained herself with secret desires and admirations.  Now that her restraint button is on OFF, she’s making the most of every two legged, bearded opportunity for affection.

A musician friend of mine — we’ll call her Grace — doesn’t know what day it is, can’t keep track of her purse or glasses, and depends upon others for routine directions.  Her husband sees to her every need.  Grace can walk up to a piano and play Precious Lord by memory.  If she hears music, she sways and hums.  Three weeks ago she stood up in the church sanctuary and sang the hymn Holy Spirit, Truth Divine in two services.

When Grace arrived in the early morning, she paced and fretted.  “I can’t do this.  I won’t remember the words.  What am I singing?”

Her accompanist was gentle and confident, “We’ll be fine.  I’ll play and you’ll follow me.”  And that’s exactly what happened.  Although the hymnal was open on the music stand, and her eyes strayed to the pages, she wasn’t reading the words.  She was feeling them: “Holy Spirit, love divine, Glow within this heart of mine; Kindle every high desire; Perish self in Thy  pure fire.”  Her face glowed with assurance; her hands gripped an unseen spirit; her body danced with invisible angels.  She sang as if praying.

And for four stanzas, we could witness that exotic, transcendent moment when desire finds sanctuary in “pure fire” where we “shall be firmly bound, forever free.”  She transported us with her and well beyond “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.”

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