In the meantime, though, I had to go on this trip to Indonesia.
Which happened, again, because of a magazine assignment. Just when I was feeling particularly sorry for myself for being broke and lonely and caged up in Divorce Internment Camp, an editor from a women's magazine asked if she could pay to send me to Bali to write a story about Yoga vacations. In return I asked her a series of questions, mostly along the line of Is a bean green? and Does James Brown get down? When I got to Bali (which is, to be brief, a very nice place) the teacher who was running the Yoga retreat asked us, "While you're all here, is there anybody who would like to go visit a ninth-generation Balinese medicine man?" (another question too obvious to even answer), and so we all went over to his house one night.
The medicine man, as it turned out, was a small, merry-eyed, russet-colored old guy with a mostly toothless mouth, whose resemblance in every way to the Star Wars character Yoda cannot be exaggerated. His name was Ketut Liyer. He spoke a scattered and thoroughly entertaining kind of English, but there was a translator available for when he got stuck on a word.
Our Yoga teacher had told us in advance that we could each bring one question or problem to the medicine man, and he would try to help us with our troubles. I'd been thinking for days of what to ask him. My initial ideas were so lame. Will you make my husband give me a divorce? Will you make David be sexually attracted to me again? I was rightly ashamed of myself for these thoughts: who travels all the way around the world to meet an ancient medicine man in Indonesia, only to ask him to intercede in boy trouble?
So when the old man asked me in person what I really wanted, I found other, truer words.
"I want to have a lasting experience of God," I told him. "Sometimes I feel like I understand the divinity of this world, but then I lose it because I get distracted by my petty desires and fears. I want to be with God all the time. But I don't want to be a monk, or totally give up worldly pleasures. I guess what I want to learn is how to live in this world and enjoy its delights, but also devote myself to God."
Ketut said he could answer my question with a picture. He showed me a sketch he'd drawn once during meditation. It was an androgynous human figure, standing up, hands clasped in prayer. But this figure had four legs, and no head. Where the head should have been, there was only a wild foliage of ferns and flowers. There was a small, smiling face drawn over the heart.
"To find the balance you want," Ketut spoke through his translator, "this is what you must become. You must keep your feet grounded so firmly on the earth that it's like you have four legs, instead of two. That way, you can stay in the world. But you must stop looking at the world through your head. You must look through your heart, instead. That way, you will know God."
Then he asked if he could read my palm. I gave him my left hand and he proceeded to put me together like a three-piece puzzle.
"You're a world traveler," he began.
Which I thought was maybe a little obvious, given that I was in Indonesia at the moment, but I didn't force the point . . .
"You have more good luck than anyone I've ever met. You will live a long time, have many friends, many experiences. You will see the whole world. You only have one problem in your life. You worry too much. Always you get too emotional, too nervous. If I promise you that you will never have any reason in your life to ever worry about anything, will you believe me?"
Nervously I nodded, not believing him.
"For work, you do something creative, maybe like an artist, and you get paid good money for it. Always you will get paid good money for this thing you do. You are generous with money, maybe too generous. Also one problem. You will lose all your money once in your life. I think maybe it will happen soon."
"I think maybe it will happen in the next six to ten months," I said, thinking about my divorce.
Ketut nodded as if to say, Yeah, that sounds about right. "But don't worry," he said. "After you lose all your money, you will get it all right back again. Right away you'll be fine. You will have two marriages in your life. One short, one long. And you will have two children . . ."
I waited for him to say, "one short, one long," but he was suddenly silent, frowning at my palm. Then he said, "Strange . . . ," which is something you never want to hear from either your palm-reader or your dentist. He asked me to move directly under the hanging lightbulb so he could take a better look.
"I am wrong," he announced. "You will only have only one child. Late in life, a daughter. Maybe. If you decide . . . but there is something else." He frowned, then looked up, suddenly absolutely confident: "Someday soon you will come back here to Bali. You must. You will stay here in Bali for three, maybe four months. You will be my friend. Maybe you will live here with my family. I can practice English with you. I never had anybody to practice English with. I think you are good with words. I think this creative work you do is something about words, yes?"
"Yes!" I said. "I'm a writer. I'm a book writer!"
"You are a book writer from New York," he said, in agreement, in confirmation. "So you will come back here to Bali and live here and teach me English. And I will teach you everything I know."
Then he stood up and brushed off his hands, like: That's settled.
I said, "If you're serious, mister, I'm serious."
He beamed at me toothlessly and said, "See you later, alligator."