A dear friend wanted to take a last minute get-away to Mexico at the end August. Since this is my year of “Yes!” I went with her. But I’m learning that traveling during a pandemic is a much different experience than previous trips. The noise, music, laughter, and crowds were all missing. Added to traveling continuously with a mask from airport to hotel room were questionnaires, QR codes, phone apps to complete and COVID tests.
To stay safe we chose a private shuttle with a vaccinated driver, re-sanitized our clean room, donned our masks constantly and only ate outdoors. We never left the resort, didn’t travel to town or eat at a restaurant. What was striking to me was I have never before experienced a resort at only 30% capacity. While this was required by the Mexican government guidelines, it felt strikingly empty.
Many days we had the beach nearly to ourselves and the pools had very few people. Yes, it was relaxing and quiet for sure, but there was a sameness to each day of that week. I found it to be an almost isolating experience.
There were no fun groups of people to watch and even the wait staff and beach vendors maintained a distance giving you a wide berth. What I missed the most was not seeing anyone smiling. Usually in Mexico the happy welcoming vibe with lots of smiles is my favorite part. Every local I saw, from construction workers, landscapers, truck drivers, to employees of the resort, they all had on a mask at all times even inside their cars. I never once saw someones full face.
Every morning I would wake up early and take a really long walk around the property. When the news said that Hurricane Nora was headed our way with a predicted direct hit in a few days, I noticed that everything was changing both at the resort and in the nearby area. I saw windows and doors boarded up on the local homes. Even piles of sandbags were placed in many areas to prevent water damage and divert the expected floods.
At the resort, the beach chairs and chaise lounges were put away, light fixtures, ceiling fans and televisions were taken down from the open air restaurants and employees were asked to bring two days worth of clothes in a backpack, just in case they needed to stay at the resort. Even the plants and trees were tied up so they had a chance to survive.
The night before Nora was predicted to hit Cabo its trajectory shifted. For the first time in many years she made landfall in Mazatlan, but did the most damage to Puerto Vallarta. Watching the news was shocking to understand the impact on these tourist dependent communities. Less people come during a pandemic and even less want to come during a hurricane. The stress and tension I saw on the faces of our servers was evident. They want us to come back because their jobs and the local economy is heavily dependent on tourism.
Without activities of any kind, I had lots of time to lay on the beach and at the pool and read. I had worked my way through each and every book I brought within three days. I went to the place they give out towels and chose a book from the box by Jody Picoult called “The Book of Two Ways.”
I read this huge hardback beach read in a day and a half. It is a well-written story but what I found notable is the main character is a “death doula”. Unlike a birth doula who helps a new mother with the transition from being pregnant to delivering her child, a death doula helps a terminal person with the transition of being alive to accepting they are dying.
In one part of the story she explains the Nine Contemplations of Death and how it can be used as a meditation while we are alive. It is a way for us to understand how to be more fully present for the time in our life we have left.
On the morning after the hurricane just a day before we were to return home I was a bit melancholy. I had just finished The Book of Two Ways, was feeling sad about the realization that I needed to cancel yet another dream trip, word that more people in my life were suffering health issues and the pandemic numbers in Washington and Oregon were distressing. That morning the wind was howling in Cabo San Lucas. The trees and plants were being whipped around with a vengeance. But I still went on my walk that morning and mediated on the Nine Contemplations.
1 Death is inevitable. No one is exempt.
Holding this thought in mind, I abide in the breath.
2 Our life span is ever-decreasing. Each breath brings us closer to death.
Holding this thought in mind, I delve deeply into its truth.
3 Death will indeed come, whether or not we are prepared.
Holding this thought in mind, I enter fully into the body of life.
4 Human life expectancy is uncertain. Death can come at any time.
Holding this thought in mind, I am attentive to each moment.
5 There are many causes of death – even habits, desires and accidents are precipitants.
Holding this thought in mind, I consider the endless possibilities.
6 The human body is fragile and vulnerable. Our life hangs by a breath.
Holding this thought in mind, I attend to my inhale and exhale.
7 At the time of death, material resources are of no use to us.
Holding this thought in mind, I invest wholeheartedly in practice.
8 Our loved ones cannot keep us from death. There is no delaying its advent.
Holding this thought in mind, I exercise non-grasping.
9 Our body cannot help us at the time of death. It too will be lost at that moment.
Holding this thought in mind, I learn to let go.
I walked and walked and walked. I saw the whirling clouds in the sky. It was as if they were in a circle around me. Leaves and branches were falling and sand from the road was flying and hit my face. For a moment I felt immense gratitude that this town and community had been spared and I began praying for those in Puerto Vallarta that were experiencing wind damage and flooding.
I clung to the idea that when I returned home I needed to focus on the positive, to embrace the life I have, to enjoy what ever time I have left on this earth and remember that nothing is guaranteed. And then it happened!
I was walking on the entrance road near the golf course and came to a section that was filled with flowers. Purple, orange, yellow and red blooming flowers for a quarter of a mile were on both sides of the road. Swarming these flowers were hundreds, likely thousands of beautiful butterflies. Huge orange Monarchs, pale yellow medium size, little almost neon green butterflies and the strangest looking insect I’ve ever seen. It looked like a skeletal bee, but was much larger and came in and out of the flowers like a hummingbird with the colors of a butterfly.
The wind was howling but the butterflies were living their purpose. They were traveling from flower to flower and valiantly trying to hold on for a brief moment before moving to the next in the midst of a raging windstorm. It occurred to me that since butterflies only live for a few hours or a few days, what were the odds of being born the day after a hurricane? Yet they weren’t complaining, they were doing what they were created to do in spite of the raging windstorm.
I watched in awe as they fluttered around me and immediately came away with a sense of peace and happiness. I know that I have a purpose. My life has a beginning and an end. A day is like a thousand years and a thousand years is like a day. In spite of the storms of life, I can choose to fully live each day completely aware that “every breath brings me closer to death.” If we only had one day to live would we live it like the butterflies?
After this unexpected trip to Mexico and my encounter with hundreds of butterflies, I have a renewed appreciation for living in the moment. I am committed to finding ways to experience a different kind of life during retirement. I want to strive to be mentally present now, instead of regretting the past or being anxious about the future.
I’m striving to hold the image of all those butterflies in the windstorm, living for only a day, in the front of my thinking and continue to ask myself, “How do I want to live each day that I’m blessed to have?”
Barbara is the new star of the Rock Your Retirement show! For one year, she'll let Kathe Kline tag along as she goes through her retirement journey.