Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The cool aunt

I think everyone has an aunt who, when in her twenties, had spent a few years studying Hinduism at an ashram in India. At funerals and family reunions, her eccentricities get glossed over in conversation. Now, she wears a lot of scarves that look "ethnic" and she's a vegetarian, and she peppers her speech with words like "lifestyle" and "mojo" and "flow". She's been divorced, twice, and is now dating a guy who has a pony tail and calls pot, "cannabis". The only people who think she's cool are the people in the family who weren't born yet when she was in India, but, for these nieces and nephews, she's the coolest relative that there is.

In a family where everyone grew up Lutheran, everyone's been a Lutheran, going back to Luther himself, the only sort of person who would convert to something as extremely different as Hinduism would have to be sort of a doodle, like Aunt-so-and-so. She went to India to get real Hindusim, not just white-people yoga-studio Hinduism. She wasn't looking for the word, Hinduism, she was looking for truth or transcendence or meaning. I think that a lot of these aunts would have stayed home if the Vietnam War hadn't happened.

So Aunt-so-and-so ran off to India, alone; nobody else in the family did, they were concerned with graduating college or getting married or getting partner at a law practice. What's striking about Aunt-so-and-so is that she eventually came back from India; she doesn't call herself a Hindu. So, while she was in India, everyone in the family would mutter about how irresponsible she is, and when she came home, everyone would look at her, "Told you so". It's just that Hinduism seemed to her to have something real, in a way that it didn't for anyone else in the family. She's a realtor now, though.

As I'm thinking about my Aunt So-and-so, I wonder if she went to India to go to India or to leave the US. She told me that when she was watching coverage of the march on Selma, with kids getting teargassed on the bridge, Grandpa said something about how he thought that black people should be treated better, but that these demonstrations were more trouble than they were worth. She talks now about how the war in Iraq is cleaner than Vietnam, but no better. I found out about the Japanese internment camps from her.

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