Nine years ago, I was backpacking in China. In the middle of the Taklamakan desert with two good friends. We had journeyed across the heart of Xinjiang Province for days together. It was summer, and although we had seen snow in the morning in Kashgar, just a few hours later, we were in the middle of swirling heat in the desert.
Our plan was to drive into the Taklamakan desert and spend the night there, with a bottle of wine, conversations, and gaze into the star-rimmed sky. That was the plan.
But life, as we have come to realize over the past few weeks, is not about planning. Sure, we can plan. Just don’t expect plans to work out all the time.
A sand storm blew up as we tried to pitch our first tent. The wind howled, throwing dust into our eyes and every crevice it could find on our body. That first tent we pitched blew away in the gusty wind. And then it started to rain. How unlucky can we be, right? Rain in the desert. Somehow, we managed to pitch the second tent as night fell. The three of us lay close to each other, our bodies icky with sand and sweat, listening to the wind and the rain. The wine and the bread? Covered in sand. The star-rimmed sky? We couldn’t see two feet ahead of us. Conversations? We were too tired to even whisper. We couldn’t even fall asleep as wet sand drizzled in through the gaps.
In the morning, we saw that life was back to normal. The sun was out. Blazing away as it is supposed to in the desert. We sighed at the soggy end to our beloved picnic. Tired and itchy, we just wanted to head back to our guesthouse in the city. Enough of this stupid desert, I thought.
“We must find that tent,” one of my friends, Boy, said suddenly. The tent that blew off last evening. We didn’t care. We wanted a shower. But he wouldn’t be dissuaded. So, off we trudged. We didn’t know why he wanted to find that tent so badly, but friendship is greater than the sum of our absurdities. We walked up and down through sand dunes in search of that tent, our boots sinking in the sand.
Sweat poured down my back. I was hungry and tired. The heat was scrambling my brain. “How are we going to find it even?” I asked Boy. But Boy had his own calculations of wind, directions, probability, and German stubbornness. We kept going. No sign of that damn tent. Finally, we told him that we needed to get back. We called our driver to pick us up. “No, no,” Boy muttered, looking deflated. The desert stretched out, seemingly to infinity. Tiny straggling bushes dotted the sand. “Sorry. We really need to go, Boy,” we told him, and turned back.
He had to agree. But just five minutes later, we found it. That green tent. It was lying partially hidden by sand in one of the dunes. “We found it! We found it!” Boy yelled. We hugged each other, laughing.
We got that tent back. We didn’t have wine. No stars. Sand in our eyes. But we got that tent.
I thought of that today. Our life right now is a mirror of that evening in the Taklamakan. We all made so many plans for this year, and we find our life being upended with no control over most of the things we value. We thought of wine and stars, and we are now stuck in sand and dust. But while that evening was not what we wanted, still there dawned a different morning. We found something we had lost. We found our tent.
These days, as chaos swirls around us, we need to find our tent. Whatever it is that gives us patches of meaning in the hopelessness. We need to find what we lost – it may be hope if we lost faith; it may be courage if we lost bravery; it may be love if we lost compassion. We might feel like giving up and head back now. Back to wherever we find despair.
But you know… there’s a tent out there. Find it. Pitch it. Shelter in. Snuggle in.