We load into a bus after our sunrise tour of the Taj and prepare to leave Agra. Our next destination is deep in the Rajasthani desert: Tordi Garh.
It’s a small town south of Jaipur. Most tourists would never know it existed. But our tour company is invested in this community. They host clean-ups along the highways, even raised money to have a beautiful soccer pitch installed for the town’s children.
In exchange, travelers like us are able to experience realistic rural Indian life. We just have to make it through a six-hour road trip first.
Driving through the country, even the rural areas, there is never a time I don’t see throngs of people. There are over a billion people in India and I see them everywhere: crowds standing outside shops, crowds walking beside the road, crowds on wheels fill the streets.
Many times over the course of our trip, I find myself struck by the fact that every single person I saw was living a life as complex and rich and valid as mine. I try to take mental snapshots of people: a woman silhouetted in the doorway of a Nepalese building, a man standing at an outdoor pump splashing water on his face, two children playing with homemade kites.
They were here, walking around on our planet, for hundreds of days prior to my arrival and will go on – living their lives, fighting their battles, loving their people – after I head back home. And to many of them, I was just a face in the window of a passing bus. Most didn’t even know I was there.
It was overwhelming to think about this. I heard the fragments of the person I was before trauma, the Shiny-Happy-Brave-Evangelist, chirp an idiom about the eternal destination of the souls of all these people. “We should feel an urgency to reach these people!” she croaked like a toy whose batteries were just about to give up the ghost.
In my youth, I would attend summer camps where we would do street evangelism: walking up to strangers on the street, asking them if they believed in heaven and hell, trying to engage them in conversation and, hopefully, conversion. I think back at the questions we were trained to ask, and how triggered I would be if someone asked me those same questions now.
I have grace for the person I was: Shiny-Happy-Brave-Evangelist didn’t know how deep the darkness of doubt could be. She had never laid in bed at 3 am and felt unspeakable abandonment and emptiness. So how could she have any empathy or understanding for people experiencing that?
I don’t know if this type of evangelism is right or wrong. Some celebrity once said that if the story of Jesus is true, every Christian should devote every minute to this type of full force evangelism because that is the only appropriate response. That makes sense to me.
But on the other hand, I think I want to advocate for an evangelism that more resembles the work of a midwife and less the work of a lawyer or a salesman—no more debating or strategizing or memorizing.
More listening. More empathy. Less angling to make a quick sale, pray the magic words, and move on to the next unsuspecting stranger. More buy-in, more patience to sit in the long hours of struggle as a new life begins.
While in Tordi, we’ll be staying in a fortress built in the 18th century. Descendants of the fort’s founders have converted it to a bed and breakfast. It’s a beautiful four-story, cream-colored building with deep red accents. Almost like they were dyed with henna.
We enter through big wooden double doors painted turquoise. The friendly receptionist hands us our room keys and applies a bindi between our eyebrows with the tip of her ring finger. She calls it a “blessing.”
Our room is on the third floor. We enjoy the view of the little village until we’re called to the large dining room on the second floor for dinner.
The village cultivates its own produce, dairy, and poultry. It’s a difference you can taste in the authentic, homemade Indian dinner we’re served: chicken biryani, a mild creamy green soup (that I request a second bowl of), and fresh roti with chutney for dipping.
It’s the first full meal I’ve dared to eat since my stomach tried to kill me, and I leisurely enjoy every bite as the sun sinks below the sand dunes.
In the morning, after breakfast, three women from the village come to the fort and make one of my tourist dreams come true: they apply beautiful, swirling henna to my hands. Even Tim gets in on it and asks for one of the henna artists to write ‘India’ in Hindi on his forearm. Then we get ready to tour the village on foot.
Hidden down a side street, the rustle of brightly colored fabrics catches our attention. A small group of women, with a few kids, sits near the entrance to a home. They sing, clap, and chat together. A small boom box blares from somewhere.
They’re so beautiful in their easy realness, wrapped in bright, silky rainbows. The American monochromatic, farmhouse aesthetic has drained vivid colors like these from my day-to-day life. But this is their normal.
When they notice our group spying, they smile warmly and wave. The kids wade through the pool of saris to run over to us.
Before we know it, we’re being pulled into the group. The kids and most of the women are having a great time, asking for selfies and teaching our group how to do Bollywood dance moves. I watch, holding back a bit near Anant.
“They are getting ready for a wedding,” explains Anant. “It will probably happen in the next few weeks. They are celebrating the bride.”
One woman, wrapped in gold and deep red, is making her way through the small crowd to each member of our group. When she gets to me, she ties a thin red and gold twine around my wrist. With a smile and a friendly head wobble, she rejoins the dancing.
“That means,” says Anant, “that you’re invited.”
There’s a very distinct feeling of isolation that haunts trauma survivors. Whether it’s “little t trauma” or “big T Trauma,” the recovery process can feel pretty lonely.
Existing simultaneously is incredible nuance (because, of course, your trauma story is layered, complicated, and absolutely unique) alongside sweeping archetype trauma themes, like betrayal, loss, or grief.
These big trauma themes are like rip currents that threaten to pull you under. While the details of your unique story are waves that crash, unrelenting, into your face.
Because no one knew or understood the complexity of my “waves,” I felt very isolated. I mistakenly believed that to be fully seen, I needed every one of my waves to be known. Every gnarly detail. Every wretched fact.
But this is an illusion.
Sharing every detail of your tragedy with the world will not cure your isolation. In some ways, oversharing can hinder connectedness and intimacy.
Because even if they know everything, people will still very rarely understand the depth of your suffering. And their inability to comprehend, even after you’ve laid bare your blistered soul, can be extremely hurtful and only amplify that isolation.
Those archetype trauma themes, on the other hand, sweep us out to sea with dozens of other people.
Initially, we think we’re completely alone in our pain, but that’s not true. There are so many people struggling alongside us. Sure, your waves are different from theirs. But we’re all in the same riptide, fighting the same undertow of grief, or anxiety, or loss.
The most soothing moments in my recovery, when my isolation melted away, was when I was able to connect with these people, swirling in my same riptide. They didn’t offer any magic-bullet hacks or tricks to beat my waves or the riptide.
They just simply said, “This sucks, I get it. I feel the same way. You’re not alone.”
Like a little red and gold twine tied around my wrist, this camaraderie between sufferers was not much. But it was enough to remind me that I was invited, a part, included, remembered, seen, and supported. It was enough to send my isolation running, and give me strength enough to keep my eyes on the shore.
As our group loads up to depart the dreamy, welcoming township, we all talk amongst ourselves as if we’ll be back for the wedding.
“We’re coming back, right? We’re all going to the wedding, right?”
It’s a pleasant bubble nobody has the heart to break as we turn our eyes north.