If you have been craving another vicarious ride on the progressive emotions of despair, hope, and then rejoicing—emotions experienced while reading the memoir Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert—you will enjoy traveling along with Jo McCrae, the fictional heroine of Life Is a Tango.
A seasoned widow, Jo McCrae is disillusioned with life, love, and even Christianity. In desperation, she joins an ecumenical South American tour group, hoping to regain her zest for life and inspire her broken spirit. Enjoy her reactions to the near-nudity on the beaches of Rio, the Argentine tango and the passionate romance that blooms in Buenos Aires, a too-close encounter with the magnificent Machu Picchu in Peru, and much more. All this is shared with her new and soon to be intimate friends, a Hindu, a Hassidic Jew, and a Muslim woman. From them she learns that, at their core, these major religions seem to nurture many of the same truths and hold more similarities than differences. Through it all, Jo begins to pick up the lost pieces of herself and manages to add precious, new depth and facets to the persona that is Jo McCrae.
Life is a Tango is a romantic novel for readers looking for intellectual stimulation along with an exhilarating, sexy, and action-packed read.
“Get ready for one of your most exciting, informative, and spiritual experiences yet-a great read!” -Doris Gates, author of Sudden Bouts of Happiness and What I learned on the Way to the Nursing Home.
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Read an Excerpt
Life is a Tango
By Alice Holeman
Balboa PressCopyright © 2014 Alice Holeman
All rights reserved.
Who Am I ...? What Are We?
Jo McRae ... Widow? Does that medieval label define me now?
A rumbling beneath the plane seat brought me back to the present, and to the shuffling, coughing and checking of seat belts all around. Soon the huge plane lumbered out onto the runway, then turned from an awkward creaking beast into a splendid, powerfully-made machine. It felt like a force of nature as it pinned me back into the seat. I silently prayed, Into Your hands I commend my spirit ... just in case of calamity.
Turning to my seatmate after the landscape vanished outside, I smiled. I was embarking on a tour and I knew the woman next to me was also a member of the group. She fastened friendly dark eyes on me from above a small, vintage body of advanced years clothed in a flowing traditional Indian sari.
"Hi. I'm Jo McRae," I said. "We met earlier at the gathering of tour members, but there were too many names for my brain."
"Mine is Sonya Saguna," answered my seatmate, as she wiggled under her seatbelt with child-like anticipation. "I've been dying to see South America all my life. It's unbelievable to finally have that dream come true, with even a stop in Mexico to finish off the tour. I can't wait for the lectures sprinkled all through the trip on out-of-body experiences, near-death experiences and extra-terrestrial evidence with the Inca and Mayan ruins. To get this all in one package is a trip of a lifetime." Her enthusiasm was contagious.
I nodded, "I've seen our guide, Jack Zuko, on the television History Channel. Now we're going to actually see some of the places he talks about."
Thinking back to the group meeting a few hours earlier, our guide had seemed more attractive than on television, with a thick bodied, olive-skinned and silver-haired Mediterranean look about him. The tour, Expand Your Horizons, consisted of twenty people, appearing to be very culturally diverse.
Leaning across Sonya, I saw that the tour participants seemed to all be concentrated close to us, across the wide jet. We were grateful that we had two seats close to a window and not in the wide center section that contained several people in each row. Our tour group was an unusual bunch of folks and I tried to guess at their religions and countries of origin.
"Sonya, what religion are you?"
"I'm Hindu, but that is a reeeeeeally broad category with some attitudes and beliefs I don't personally hold," she said.
"I'm Christian, but I don't understand so much that passes as Christianity today. Actually, sometimes I'm embarrassed because it doesn't sound like Jesus to me." We seemed to have something in common with our ambivalent religious feelings.
As Sonya's eyes fastened on my face with such an open kindness, impulsive thoughts spilled right out of my mouth, unbidden. "This life we're given is so exhilarating ... and so devastating. I'm hunting for the purpose—the reason."
What in the world made me pop out with that, and to a perfect stranger?
"Oh Jo... You have some important thoughts stewing in your mental cauldron! What's going on?" Not showing any surprise or judgment, Sonya just watched me and waited, smiling encouragingly.
"Well... I've always been enthusiastic about life. It's been filled with marriage, children and a rewarding nursing career." Grinning self-consciously I admitted, "I was an avid, 'rabid' collector of landscaping plants to complete my rock and waterfall gardens. And it's been a passion of mine to read just about everything I could find on spirituality."
I stopped talking as I heard the plastic cap "pop" on a little airline liquor bottle. The smell of bourbon wafted up over my seat from a man who was about to enjoy a nightcap drink. For me, that smell was indelibly attached to heartache. Emotion choked back any further words.
Sonya's face and body bent forward toward me with complete attention as if to coax the words out of me.
I swallowed and continued, "Before my husband, Ron, died unexpectedly of a heart attack, the marriage had become a challenge. The handsome, self-assured architect I married eventually became disillusioned as the styles of houses and buildings changed into something he could not appreciate. There was no market for his beautiful, earthy, rock and cedar designs anymore, at least not in the city where we lived. His copious social drinking became more constant, although he dutifully continued to crank out architectural plans for which he had no passion.
"At night he drank to cope, and I became like a second wife. His companion ... and comfort ... was the bottle, not me. I fought for him. He agreed to rehab, dried out and then couldn't hold on to the sobriety. I planned trips—the bottle went along. I screamed and yelled, bought sexy underwear, drank with him. Nothing could get through.
"A man's self-worth can be so tied up with his vocation—his work—that his sense of self vanishes with the job. I think, to him, the ultimately fatal heart attack was a release from the misery.
"Through those lonely years, Al-Anon, the support organization for friends and families of alcoholics, saved my sanity. 'Sick in the head' myself, and exhausted, they nurtured me back to health. For the first time, I learned to trust my Higher Power, God—to turn over the controls of my train-wrecked life and it actually worked! Agonies subsided—problems solved themselves." Smiling, I told her of a sign on my mirror, my mantra. "Let Go or Be Dragged!"
"But when Ron died, everything fell apart. Our son did too—grabbed a bottle and vanished, himself.
"Three years later, I just can't get a grip back on life. All the legal, financial and social adjustments are done. I sold our house and gardens and passed our furniture and various belongings to our children because Ron was involved in every piece. The memories kept hurting too much. The kids and grandkids now come to see me at my apartment on a little lake surrounded by woods that God takes care of. Still, there's no zest, no joy. Darn it, I'm still here ... for What?"
Sonya shrugged her little shoulders and said, "You're not done yet, Jo. There's a lot more life waiting for you."
"The key has to be spiritual. My church goes through the motions, the rituals—but, for me, it's all flat. There's no experience of God there. A yearning comes up in me, wanting to be answered again. But the connection is broken. My battery is dead, corroded.
"The magazine, Whole Spirit, looked interesting because it discusses other religions. There might be a spark for me there, by exploring the different faiths. This tour advertisement, in the magazine, seemed to jump off the page. I'm hoping to be around lots of people of different religions and to find out all about them, their beliefs. Maybe I don't need to be a Christian anymore."
Grinning at her and embarrassed, I willed her to understand. What in the world made me unload all my troubles onto this perfect stranger—I am losing it!
With a sweet affectionate grin, Sonya snuggled her shoulder next to mine and said, "I understand your dilemma and feel your pain. You've made a good choice to come on this tour. It's a start. I came because this sounded like a fantastic experience, and I don't want to miss anything, anything I can get out of life."
It was getting late—midnight already. We would fly all night to make the trip seem less tedious. The flight attendants had provided pillows and blankets for each of us and I tucked my pillow next to the window and settled under the blanket, just as Sonya seemed to want to do.
Sleep didn't come easily because our seats were near a bathroom and we were frequently serenaded with a "creeeeak/bang, creeeeak/ bang" of the door as the disheveled and stiff passengers trudged back and forth through the night.
Out of frustration, both awake, we turned the seat lights on to read. Sonya retrieved a little laptop computer from her satchel under the seat and bent intently over it, completely absorbed.
After a while I asked, "What are you working on?"
"I'm attempting to write a book. My old journals have recorded the problems and obstacles that turned into blessings and I feel like there's some wisdom to be shared. When I journal, a voice comes to me through the pages and counsels me. My challenges turn into knowledge and wisdom gained." She humbly smiled. "I don't know if I'm good enough—if I can really pull it off."
"How wonderful Sonya," I whispered, trying not to wake the people fortunate enough to be asleep.
She said, "I have notes from my journal in one file and the book in another file in this computer. It's so wonderful, no heavy paper work to drag around!" She had mastered the new computer technology. Such a youthful, inquisitive spirit.
She shyly handed me the laptop and I began to read her book and ... didn't want to stop reading. It was good! As I read on, she finally fell asleep. Later, I reluctantly turned off the light and fell asleep myself.
A sudden sickening drop of the plane shocked me awake and we seemed to levitate, thankfully restrained by the seatbelts. Everyone was rousing and looking around for some explanation.
Overhead lights came on and the pilot announced, "We have a bit of bad weather to pass through, so please stay in your seats with your seat belts buckled."
The heavy plane listed sideways and dropped again and then, whack! A sudden jolt to the side whipped my head hard into the window-frame before I could brace myself. Staring stupidly ahead, I tried to make sense of what had just happened.
Sonya grasped my arm and peered at my face. She exclaimed, "Your eyebrow is bleeding!" Quickly, a soft handkerchief was pulled from her pocket and pressed to my forehead while she called for someone to find a flight attendant.
I thought ... So, sari's have pockets. I didn't know that.
A brave flight attendant came down the aisle, desperately clinging to each seat back as she passed. The handkerchief was replaced by a bandage and eventually I received some Tylenol for my growing headache.
The movements of the plane were unpredictable and slightly nauseating and we heard definite sounds of vomiting somewhere behind us. After a little while, the plane quieted its shuddering, the sudden drops in altitude, and all was smooth again.
Thoroughly shaken, I couldn't seem to get calm, still quivering inside.
Sonya noticed my discomfort and quietly collected our two pillows which she placed on her lap, and then after raising the arm rest between us and adjusting the seat-belts, she gently pulled my head and shoulder onto the pillows. Smoothing my sweaty hairline and separating the strands of hair softly and kindly, I found myself being gently mothered by a stranger. The previous shock and the emotion of it caused me to tear up and sob quietly. Sonya just kept stroking my forehead and hair and even hummed a little song under her breath. It calmed the trembling and I felt incredibly loved.
A little while later we straightened ourselves up, smiled at each other, and I said "Thank you, from the bottom of my heart."
"Speaking of your heart, precious Jo, it's been broken by the death of your husband. You've locked your heart away for safe keeping." Her eyes twinkled as she said, "It's got a cast-iron chastity belt around it; no feeling can get past those metal barriers. But it's nearly impossible to talk yourself out of it—you instinctively protect your damaged heart.
"Being a nurse, you think three years is long enough, but grief has no time limit. Compound that with all the guilt you've dumped on yourself for not 'getting a grip' and your ambivalent feelings about the marriage—what should have been, what could have been. Jo, you've been brutal to yourself. Would any patient of yours ever get that kind of treatment?"
I hung my head and admitted, "No, of course not."
Sonya continued, "My husband died too, five years ago. As a Hindu I know he's not gone, but 'just around the next corner'. Still, losing him was terribly painful to live through. It took a while, but eventually I decided to live each day as if it is my last and to enjoy life as much as possible.
"I suspect you have been a passionate woman your whole life, Jo. When you were chasing those desires, pursuing those special plants or incredible rocks to create your rock and stream gardens, you were in bliss, right?"
"Yes, it was most definitely blissful. I could work all day in those gardens and still want more."
Sonya lit up, "That's what life is for—to pursue your passions—even if those desires turn out to be ultimately unsatisfying! It's the anticipation and the process that matters, even more than the end result. When there's passion in the process, that's how magnificent discoveries, symphonies and all sorts of masterpieces come into existence."
She grasped my hand. "And, I see your next passion already forming in you."
"What? I don't understand," I said.
"Aren't you chasing God?"
"Well yes," I admitted, "with not much success."
"You're on this tour, right? God is revealed in the divine expressions of human life—the creations—and even the events you judge as mistakes! I think life should be a treasure hunt for bliss and Bliss can be another name for God. Following the trail toward bliss can lead us to life's goal—a goal that changes and reveals itself as we grow.
"So let's go out and look for today's clues. Something or someone will cause a crack to form in your armor. You'll know when it happens. And you'll start to heal."
Tears began to roll down my face again because Sonya herself, with her unconditional loving, had caused a lightening, a feeling of relief. Motherless since I was three years old, this nurturing was like a rain shower on my dry internal landscape. Maybe something could bloom yet.
Sleep came finally and then dawn flashed through that offending window.
Morning sunshine bathed the big plane and caused animated conversations to swell among the passengers as they peered out the windows at the Brazilian landscape coming into view.
I wearily opened my eyes and was struggling to orient myself when a handsome male face swam into view.
Jack, our tour director, bent over Sonya to check on me. "You're Jo, right?"
I mutely nodded my head.
"I was told you were badly hurt and bleeding." He leaned forward and his warm hand squeezed my shoulder.
That woke me up.
The hand moved to my cheek and with a caressing touch he turned my face to where he could see my eyebrow. After a searching look into my eyes, his fingers gently brushed my hair away from the injury and he examined the wound.
I wondered if the rest of my hair was standing on end.
"The cut is in your eyebrow and will soon disappear," he pronounced. With a quick smile and a wink, he turned to leave saying, "I'll see you two ladies when we land."
Sonya grinned at me, a distinct twinkle in her eyes.
I realized that I had been mute during the whole encounter. He was acting like a responsible tour director, checking out my injury ... but that touch on my cheek and that look we exchanged was not standard procedure.
Man! For so long now, I hadn't thought of myself as a sexual woman. Rusty gears turned in my brain, trying to adjust to this new perspective.
After quickly surveying myself in the plane's cramped washroom mirror, I decided that although "of a certain age", my generously curved body was still pretty well preserved thanks to all that heavy gardening, and my auburn hair, now flecked with silver, looked pretty good.
"Okay, Jo McRae," I told the mirror, "It's high time you learned how to play again. But I bet old Jack is a card-carrying professional player with his pick of several younger women on this tour. Trolling the waters, he's dangling that sexy bait of his to see who bites. Get a Grip! Don't be played for a silly middle-aged fool!"CHAPTER 2
Jack paced back and forth in his cramped hotel room, talking to himself. It was almost time to meet his new tour group at the airport. What possessed me to advertise my tour in a religious magazine? Probably got a bunch of serious, judgmental seniors, and have to work my ass off to pump any life into the trip.
Even though his television show aired on the History Channel, he wondered why religious people would sign up for a tour with his talks of out-of-body experiences, near-death experiences, evidence of extra-terrestrial visitations and unfamiliar religions such as that of the Mayans.
"Well," he muttered, "My ad was in 'Whole Spirit' and it does feature articles from all the major religions. Rigid fundamentalists wouldn't dare look into other faiths; lightening might strike 'em!" He grinned to himself.
Part of his motivation to attract an older population came as a result of his last tour. That rowdy bunch of young people had run him ragged trying to stay ahead of them and he had mistakenly romanced the most energetic woman of the trip. Keeping up with her, he had almost popped a hernia!
Excerpted from Life is a Tango by Alice Holeman. Copyright © 2014 Alice Holeman. Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
ContentsAuthor's Note, vi,
1 Who Am I? What Are We?, 1,
2 Jack, 13,
3 Rio, 22,
4 Iguazu Falls, 35,
5 Near-Death Experiences, 45,
6 Medina and Islam, 55,
7 Buenos Aires, 66,
8 Jack, 82,
9 Santiago, Chile, 85,
10 Challenges We Plan Before Birth, 95,
11 Forgiveness in Jesus, 105,
12 Lima, Peru, 111,
13 Yearning for Cusco, 129,
14 Jack, 137,
15 Cusco, 144,
16 Quito Ecuador, 160,
17 Mexico, 173,
18 Native American Spirituality, 185,
19 The Mayans, 192,
20 The Cave, 219,
21 Rescue, 240,
22 Jack, 246,
23 Jo, 249,
About the Author, 267,