Meeting Cloe

My 17-year-old and I just returned from London. When I was invited over a year ago to make a presentation at a conference in Oxford this summer, I asked Celia if she’d like to come along to England with me. She didn’t skip a beat before signing on for her first international adventure.

During our time in London, we visited the usual tourist sites: Big Ben, Tower of London, Buckingham, London Eye, and so on. But we also did something out of the ordinary that I’m still trying to wrap my brain around.

A few days into the trip, I sat at my computer catching up on emails while Celia kicked back on the hotel bed to check out some you-tube videos. Suddenly, I heard a high-pitched squeal coming from Celia’s direction:

“Mommy, Cloe is having a meet and greet at Princess Diana’s memorial in Hyde Park this Saturday!!!!!!! Can we go?!”

“Um, maybe. Who’s Cloe?”

“Cloe from Cloe Couture! She’s one of my favorite you-tubers!!!”

Priding myself on being a semi-cool mom, I do know what you-tube is. Heck, I’ve even watched a few videos. One demonstrated how to wrap my sari, something I’ve never quite mastered despite being instructed by more than a few Indian women. Others have featured clips from interviews and talks by people whose work I’m interested in. But Cloe Couture? Never heard of her.

Celia showed me one of Cloe’s videos, confident that I would recognize the girl’s brilliance. Cloe is indeed entertaining to watch–a little bit of information on clothes, shopping and other teenage matters is mixed in with humor and lots and lots of energy. Plus, she’s just a tad older than Celia, and will be heading to UCLA in the fall to begin her freshman year.

So on Saturday, my British pal Kathryn, Celia and I trekked our way through Hyde Park to Cloe’s gathering. A number of fans were already there when we arrived, and Celia soon joined the circle to get to know the other girls, play a game, and take photos with Cloe. Celia was very, very excited to have met her online friend in person. And Celia’s friends expressed (via text, instagram, and snapchat) their extreme jealousy that Celia had the opportunity to actually meet someone that they’ve only seen from afar. As far away as you-tube.

Images of India

Recently, I saw The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, a film about a run-down hotel in Jaipur, India, that draws a handful of British retirees seeking a change of scenery in their later years. The movie was fantastic, and it took me back to the richness of India’s streets and the odd, yet seemingly natural, juxtaposition of calm and calamity. It’s not unusual to walk out of a holy site filled with a sense of peace and serenity only to encounter a young mother begging for a small offering of food to feed her children or a street vendor insisting relentlessly that he has “very good quality, Madam” and “will make special price for you.” Life experiences of many kinds collide in India.

According to Sonny, the main character whose dream it is to turn a decrepit landscape into  a luxury hotel, the greatest and smallest of challenges can be managed with a little faith. “All will be right in the end. If it is not right now, then it is not yet the end,” he assures his guests.

I’ve thought a lot about this simple phrase that promises a tidy ending to life’s difficulties. I quite like the sentiment of Sonny’s words, though I think I would interpret the “right-ness” in the end to a sense of acceptance for most of us plodding along day to day.

In typical Hollywood/Bollywood fashion, it’s no surprise that the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel becomes a smashing success, the retirees find new purpose for their lives while resolving the regrets of the past, and romances flourish by the end of the film.

In reality, only rarely does everything turn out right. Instead, I’m guessing we come to realize that whatever the outcome, it is the one we’ve been waiting for–whether we know it or not. It is what it is.

Six degrees of separation

In the last few years, my writing and teaching have brought me closer to a number of “celebs”–all in the six degrees of separation sort of way. My article “Homeless with Cancer” in CR Magazine is one of the projects that reduced the space between me/my world and the lives of some pretty well-known people.

It started with Sylvia Plachy, famed photographer for The New Yorker and Village Voice and mom to Adrien Brody. It’s hard not to giggle when I see a trailer for one of Brody’s upcoming films, and over the holidays, Sylvia’s greetings came to me in the form of a postcard with Adrien pictured, camera in hand, smack in the middle of filming a Gilette commercial.

There’s also my encounter with Mark Strassman, a reporter for CBS News. Some mornings, I flip on the CBS Early Show and there’s Mark–standing in the middle of Cairo or on the not-so-sandy beaches of the Gulf Shore which are still recovering from the BP oil fiasco.

This past summer, I had a close encounter of another kind. With a group of students and colleagues, I received a rare private tour of Maiti Nepal and learned about this amazing refuge for women and children who have been taken across the border into India and forced to work as sex slaves, often threatened with their own lives or the lives of their children if they don’t do as they’re told. Many are infected with HIV and bear deep physical and emotional wounds. All strive for a better life back in their native country. Just a few months prior to our stepping foot on the campus of Maiti Nepal, where children are allowed an education and mothers learn an honest trade like sewing, all efforts at ensuring their survival and independence, Demi Moore walked the same paths and produced a documentary for CNN called Nepal’s Stolen Children.

Lives cross, and at the end of the day, we’re all just a few degrees apart.