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Travelling with Buddha

You know the sayings: Be in the moment. Don't label any event in life as good or bad. Accept what is. Buddha called it the secret of success and happiness, being "One with Life." It's not easy to live like that, but I think they may be onto something.

I am on a whirlwind research trip. I've been to six cities in 12 days: Toronto, Hamilton, New York, Baltimore, Washington and finally Boston.

I am travelling fast and light with a small rolling suitcase, a brief case and purse.

The suitcase's weight is such that, standing just so, I can clean and jerk it into an overhead bin without conking another passenger on the head.

On my last day I do my final three interviews in Boston. I get to the airport at 3 pm for a 5 pm flight to Toronto, anticipating a late dinner with friends, a nice hotel and the plane home the next morning.

"Passport please," says the check-in clerk.

It is not in my purse. I have shown it dozens of times the last two weeks, used it the night before to board a flight from Washington, but it is not in the zippered pocket. I search everything, including opening my luggage in front of a line of people. I am tossing out underwear and dirty knee highs like a hyperventilating juggler. Nada.

Oh my god, I am going to miss my flights. This is going to cost me hundreds of dollars. This is a %$#&-ing disaster. I am barely fighting back tears of anxious frustration.

Wait, don't label. Calm down. It is as it is.

"You can't board," says the clerk who hands me the card of the Canadian Consular Services. I dial the after hours number and get the attaché, Josie, at a diplomatic function. I can hear chatter and the tinkling of wine glasses in the background. It is a Wednesday night and she tells me it could take three business days to get a new one.

"Be at our offices at 9 am sharp with all your documentation" she says. Fortunately, I always carry a photocopy of my passport, but my husband has to run up to the Victoria Passport office with my birth certificate. Josie advises me, if we have the right documents in hand at the dot of 9 am, she might be able to get a new passport for me in two days. Otherwise I'll be stuck in Boston until Monday or Tuesday. A huge expense.

One of my interviewees, whom I call to see if my passport fell out in her office, kindly offers to put me up in her guest room in the suburb of Watertown for the night. We have a lovely evening.

I get up very early and try my damnedest to get to the Consulate by 9 am, but glitches keep happening. Buses full of commuters heading to Harvard pass me by, refusing to pick me up. "No room," say the drivers. "This always happens," gripes a fellow waiting at the bus stop with me. He tells me it is at least five miles to Harvard Square where I can pick up the subway on the MTA line.

So I walk, on a beautiful fall day. "Accept what is." The trees are aflame in colour. The sun is shining. The air has that fall crispness to it. Soon I am smiling. Some forty minutes later I am at the MTA stop. I board the green line to Copley Square during rush hour. But after two stops the subway train breaks down in the middle of a tunnel. We creak into the nearest station where officials with megaphones order hundreds of us off into shuttle buses. I am laughing. Accept what is!

Of course, I only have directions to the Consulate from the subway. I get lost. Jeesh, the cosmos really does not want me to get there on time!  A lovely woman with google on her Iphone helps me find my way.

"You are late," says the attaché when I walk in at 10:25 am. "It doesn't look good for getting this done in two days," she says.

I am filling out forms in the waiting room while the attaché is in a back room about to void my passport when a woman and her friend walk in. She knocks on the glass window.

"Excuse me," she says to the receptionist. "The strangest thing has happened. I went to show my passport at the hotel last night and the clerk said: "This isn't you! Somehow I have another women's passport!"

"Is it Anne Mullens'?" I pipe up from across the room.

"Why yes!" she says.

"JOSIE, DON'T CANCEL THE PASSPORT!!" yells the receptionist at the top of her lungs into the backroom.

Turns out, she was in the row ahead of me on the Washington-Boston flight. When I heaved my bag into the overhead compartment, my passport flopped out of my purse onto her seat. She looked down, saw the Canadian emblem, assumed it was hers, picked it up. All in an instant. She had taken more than an hour to make the trip into the Consulate. "The MTA broke down!"

We laughed at the weird coincidence; how, if I had arrived by 9 am my passport would have been cancelled long before she arrived.

"You are so lucky," said the attaché.

Then, as I was walking out chuckling, my cell phone rings. It is a PR friend-of-a-friend offering me a free night at the four star Fairmont Copley Plaza — a gorgeous hotel. "I heard you were stuck in Boston," she said.

I had a delightful, unexpected 24 hours exploring wonderful Beantown. The airline reservation clerk starts laughing when I tell him why I'd missed my planes. "Let's see what we can do," he said, putting me on flights to Toronto then home the next day, waiving any penalties.

In all, the temporary loss of my passport turned into a 24 hour gift, filled with laughter and serendipity.

Indeed, maybe there is something to saying "Yes" to what is.

This Wry Eye column first appeared in the July 2013 Boulevard Magazine.

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Posted on Saturday, June 29, 2013 at 11:27AM by Registered CommenterAnne | Comments3 Comments

Reader Comments (3)

Good article! I agree. I have tried to adopt the same attitude on our current cycling trip in France. Amazingly, there has always been something positive to be gained - often a random kind act on the part of a stranger or a memorable and unforeseen experience - as a consequence of what looked initially like a problem.
June 30, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer Margison
A well-told tale of accepting what happens and letting serendipity happen!
July 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEric Eggertson
LOVE this story!
November 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAngela Hemming

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