Bring On The Marigold Hotel: Three Tickets to an Exotic Life at Any Age

07/16/2012 06:01 pm ET | Updated Sep 15, 2012

I'll never get to India now. The sheer length of the trip makes my knees swell at the very idea of the plane ride. Besides, the change of water and food would undoubtedly find me holed up in a hotel somewhere in the depths of Jodhpur trying to settle down my stomach.

Instead, joining millions of 50-plus people around the world, I traveled to my local theatre to see The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, a film set in India and starring the over-60 icons Judi Dench (I don't know a woman who doesn't love her), Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy and Maggie Smith.

This isn't a review of the movie. Instead, it's my take-away thoughts, which have lingered in my mind like hot vindaloo and cool raita. Here's what the movie triggered in me.

It's difficult to change now: Even when we truly want to, our life history nags at us, pulling us back into familiar places and daily routines that allow us to feel safe. We want our morning coffee and newspaper, our home offices with computers and cell phones with strong reception towers standing by. We want our own car and department stores that send us coupons, and grocery stores that are overflowing with artistically stocked fruits and vegetables year-round. Giving up the comforting aspects of our lives is scary.

But we can. Our marigold experience can happen if we rethink the possible and mix up our lives a little. Here are three things that can make life more interesting, without going all the way to India:

1. Make the choice to be brilliantly alive. We may be beyond tectonic changes in our lives now (a new career, another chance to turn left and start all over again), but we are capable of staying fresh. It can come with significant little changes.

Maybe it's letting your hair grow long, or be cut short, or go gray; maybe it means putting a sheer red scarf over the lampshade to create a new look in your bedroom at night or maybe you'll try cooking shrimp scampi or chicken curry -- or skip the oatmeal and have a juicy plate of French fries with gravy for breakfast. Who knows? The trick is to keep re-examining what you're doing. Promise yourself you'll try one new thing every day or so.

2. Imagine you are not going to live forever. I know we all know we're going to die. But most of us think it's still years away. Hopefully, it is. Meanwhile, we whistle in the dark and do what we've always done. Break up your thoughts and truly think that this may be your last week of life. What would you do?

I think I wouldn't change too much, although I'd talk to the kids and grandkids everyday and not worry whose turn it was to call. I'd write until my nails were broken and my head hurt in an attempt to get all of my ideas down before they died with me. I'd write letters to my sons and grandchildren, to be read after I'm gone, while classical music filled the house, the volume turned up high.

I'd eat a whole lobster with a cup of butter and good cold vanilla bean ice cream with a sleeve of Thin Mint Girl Scout Cookies for dessert. And I'd start that meal with an ice-cold vodka Martini, straight up, dirty and with extra olives (my cousin Ashley taught me to drink them that way).

I'd spend a long time talking with my husband and hugging the daylights out of him, and I'd lay on the floor with the dogs for an hour after I'd spent a lazy afternoon at the piano. I'd listen to Tom Waits beginning to end, every one of his albums, and follow that up with Leonard Cohen and a little Rod Stewart. To wind up the day, I'd do what I do most days: Get up in bed with lots of pillows behind me and read until toothpicks can't hold open my eyes. The next morning, over good, strong coffee, I'd make a list of the music I want played at my memorial service. That's very important to me.

Holy-moley. As I look at that list, there's not one thing I couldn't do right now. I notice with interest that TV did not even make the top 75, but telephone calls to my family and good friends did. I've made note of that where I'll see it each day.

Try your hand at a list. You really aren't going to live forever, so there's no time like now.

3. Dare to be afraid. One of the key moments for me in Marigold Hotel was the fear I felt with Judi Dench when she got lost looking for the job site. She wandered around crowded streets, through low archways and winding doorways until she came to a small courtyard. She was totally alone, lost among complete strangers. If she had been struck right then, no one would have been able to save her, or even know what had happened to her. She was all alone.

That scene reminded me that being willing to do something daringly different in our lives takes all the courage we can muster. We may find ourselves in a frightful place as we step outside of our cocoons, but Dench's character reminded me that we need to swallow our fear and keep going. Good things happen when we least expect it, and no number is attached to the year when it does.

A unifying message in Marigold Hotel was the idea that "It will all work out in the end. And if it isn't working out right now, that's because it isn't the end." Words to live by, I say.

I don't know what the final challenges in my life will be, but I know they will present themselves to me, especially if I am open to them. I don't think my adventures will involve an old hotel or a group of strangers trying to live boldly before they die. Then again, maybe it will.

Just not in India, please. I love the country and its people and adore Indian food, but my knees just can't take it.

Martha Nelson is an award-winning journalist and a former educator, nonprofit executive, chef, and musician. Her first novel, Black Chokeberry, was published in April 2012 and is available everywhere including from her website,

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