On a recent trip to India we had tea with Mary and Don, a devoted couple from Texas who, for over twenty-five years, had been running a clinic for disabled and handicapped children, for the poorest of the poor, in Chennai, South India.
We wondered how, when they first arrived, they had coped with the very different culture and attitudes of India, especially as they and their four young children lived in a small hut with no running water.
“During our early days I was visiting a hill station when I got word that I was needed back in Madras, a bus and train journey away,” Don told us. “The next morning, while taking the bus down the mountain, we unexpectedly came to a halt. A long line of traffic revealed an accident between a truck and another bus, which was now blocking the road.
“I was concerned about catching my train so I began to try and organize a way through, unfortunately forgetting the legacy the English had left in India: a great reverence of authority. There were buses stopped on both sides of the accident. ‘Could they not exchange their passengers,’ I asked, ‘turn around and go back to where they had come from, taking the passengers that needed to get there?’
“‘Oh no, sir,’ came the answer, ‘the buses are from different companies and so they would not be able to sort out the money for the tickets and we have no permission for this.’
“Then I discovered that one bus on each side was from the same company. ‘Could they not exchange passengers?’ I tried again.
“‘But no, sir, for then each driver would end up at a destination where they were not meant to be, and there is no permission for this to happen.’
“By now I had joined forces with Eric, a Swedish man who had a jeep. Together we worked out that if we could fill in the ditch beside the road then the bus could be moved back off the road on to the bank and there would be enough room for cars to get past. ‘Oh no, sir,’ came the reply, ‘this is not possible. To fill in the ditch we would need permission and we do not have the permission to do this.’
“While all this had been going on, the various occupants of the many buses and cars now waiting on each side of the accident had spread their blankets (dhotis) and were sitting or resting quietly in the shade under the trees. Eric and I, getting extremely hot and irritated in the midday sun, were the only ones trying to get anything done. Everyone else was quite happy to let events unfold by themselves.
“By now it was 1pm. We decided that if nothing had happened by 2pm then we would fill in the ditch and move the truck ourselves. At 1:30 the police arrived, assessed the situation, and gave the long awaited permission to fill the ditch and move the truck, and by 2pm we were on our way down the hill. I caught my train with a few minutes to spare.”
“So has India changed you? Would you now react differently?” we asked.
Don laughed. “If presented with the same circumstances now I would simply spread my blanket in the shade like everyone else and let the situation take care of itself!”
We are reminded of this story whenever we find ourselves getting worked up about something. It helps us let go and be present in this world of chaos and confusion. Just spread your blanket is like saying, Breathe in, breathe out, and just chill. It immediately releases any pressure and, inevitably, everything gets resolved in its own time.