Updated: Dec 7, 2018
I love the word “bashert.” Meaning “destiny” or “meant to be” in Yiddish, it perfectly blends the messy “b” and “sh” sounds at the beginning with the punctuating, optimistic “t” at the end. And it’s romantic—the idea that some force is guiding our future. When I arrived in Bangkok I was seeking that force. I was seeking peace, serenity, and wisdom after a year of changes. I arrived a day before my 14-day group tour of Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam. I also arrived without my luggage, necessitating wearing the same outfit for the second day. It was on that day that I met Fred and Minna.
Over breakfast I leaned over to Minna to ask her for the hotel Wi-Fi. As soon as she and her husband Fred interacted with each other, I decided they were the perfect New York couple. They had beautiful accents. They finished each other’s sentences. When I ate something really spicy Minna jumped up to get me a glass of water as Fred pointed out, “she was a nurse.” I learned they were travelling through Southeast Asia and had just come from Vietnam. Fred hadn’t been there since the war. Minna said the streets of Hanoi were so much busier than Bangkok. I already felt a little disheartened. Here were two people in their 70s navigating foreign countries. I was supposedly young and energized, but my tour hadn’t even started and I was already tired. Already beyond sweaty and in the same underwear as yesterday. I thanked them for their tips on Vietnam and set out to explore Bangkok on foot, telling them “I want to get a little lost.”
I did get a little lost. I started at the Temple of the Golden Buddha. I stood in front of the massive, gleaming statue among teens raising selfie sticks, kneeling grandfathers, and tourists told by the security guards to remove their hats. Despite the chaos in the temple, it was one of the calmer spots I would find in the city. From there I wandered past pastel colonial buildings and through the mechanics and motorcycle repair district. I walked through another temple where only three monks stood adjusting their orange robes. I stopped for an iced green tea and walked some more. But by the time one o’clock approached I really was lost, tired, and it was 90 degrees. I stood in an area that seemed like it should be near the hotel but I couldn’t find on the map. I really needed to eat and sit down. So I just stood on the corner for a few seconds, looked up, and there was the hotel sign. I couldn’t believe it. It was as if I had a homing device. Relieved to be back at the hotel, I went back up to the 9th floor restaurant where I was pleasantly surprised to find Fred and Minna having lunch.
We smiled, laughed, and they invited me to sit down. And as we looked down over the smog-smoked city, I asked them my favorite question to ask couples, “How did you meet?” Then, as if they weren’t cute enough, they answered my question like one of the couples in “When Happy Met Sally,” completing each other’s thoughts in perfect timing:
Minna: “My best friend was marrying his best friend. I was there with my fiancé”
Fred: “I saw her at the wedding…”
Minna: “Fred was in uniform.”
Fred: “…and I just didn’t think she and her fiancé looked like a match.”
Minna: “I liked to go out dancing, and my fiancé was a college boy.”
Fred: “So I told her friend I thought she shouldn’t be with him.”
Minna: “My friend told me what he said.”
Fred: “And I went off to Vietnam.”
Minna: “I didn’t think about Fred. But the more I thought about what he said, the more I saw he was right. So I broke it off. It wasn’t about Fred, I was just having fun. I went out dancing. It was the late 60s in New York.”
Fred: “When I came back from Vietnam I asked her out.”
Minna: “We have two children. We’ve been married 50 years.”
Fred: “It was bashert.”
There it was. That beautiful word when things work out just as they should. I was honored to hear their story. I thanked them, and, since they’d shared their story, I told them about my last relationship. Minna leaned in with sympathetic eyes, “What are you going to do next?”
“She has to go on.” Fred answered definitively.
The last night in Bangkok I sat on the hotel’s small rooftop bar watching the sun set beyond the temple of the golden Buddha. I thought about how my bashert hadn’t yet come in the way it had come for Fred and Minna, but it had come in other ways. I’d met and spent the day boat-riding and temple-touring with my new travel mates who seemed awesome. My roommate gave me, literally, the shirt off her back when my luggage still hadn’t arrived. She’d shared her story, too. About leaving a job and ending a relationship to travel the world. I felt—in the spirit of bashert—that I’d been paired with my own destiny. As I watched the sky thinking about my upcoming journey, a guy I’d seen around the hotel sat down and asked me who I was travelling with. He had just finished the same tour I was about to start. He was like the ghost of Christmas future in the form of a tall, bespectacled Swede who couldn’t believe I was 39 when he thought I was the same age as him, 31. God, I needed that. Needed a European man to tell me (in 90 degree heat with no makeup on) that I looked eight years younger. And in another small way, that was my bashert. Even if it didn’t come in the form of a life partner, it had come, and would continue to come, in a million tiny ways: The temple of the golden Buddha I visited each day, miraculously finding my way back to the hotel, meeting Fred and Minna, my soul-spirit roommate, the tall Swede, and the phone call from the hotel at two a.m. telling me my luggage had arrived.