The White Lotus: Or How Not to Become a Lotus Eater

My inbox is full of travel offers luring me to far off places with sandy beaches, umbrella drinks, spa services and the promise of renewal. My daughter Emily and I had agreed in June when it seemed like the coronavirus was on the wane that we would take a long “girls’ weekend” together, just the two of us, after the year we had endured. We would pamper ourselves, and regroup. We would find a sandy beach, and an umbrella drink, and a massage, preferably in a chic, out of the way resort.

Since the previous summer there had been three family deaths — none from COVID, thank goodness, but all devastating nonetheless. Our group texts had lit up seven times with news of an emergency room visit, each one culminating in a lengthy hospitalization, again, none from COVID, but all exacerbated by it. My other daughter had lost a twin in utero and given birth prematurely to his brother. Luckily, his NICU stay had been short, but throughout her difficult pregnancy and postpartum period none of us could be of assistance, again, thanks to COVID. Both Emily and her husband had navigated virtual teaching, while also awaiting his delayed tenure decision. Again, thanks to COVID. All of our extended family had been quarantine compliant, and by this time we had missed so many holidays, birthdays and assorted life events that we wondered if we would ever all be together again.

So, Emily and I decided on early October — someplace in the Caribbean, someplace quiet, luxe, a splurge. And then came Delta. All plans were off. In a sense we dodged a bullet.

I binge watched The White Lotus series this weekend. On the one hand, Emily and I are a far cry from Olivia and Nicole Mossbacher, the supercilious mother and daughter vacationers in this dramedy about a Hawaiian island resort staffed by frustrated, mistreated and sometimes betrayed staffers. As the New York Times put it, “Mike White’s one-percenters satire for HBO is a sun-soaked tale of money, death and customer service.” Rich people pretending to be woke, marriages frayed by a loss of trust but stitched together out of convenience if not outright cynicism, exploitation of the native inhabitants, the worst excesses of self-delusion and self-destruction, they are all there.

Photo by Man Dy on

Why watch then? Because the ensemble cast is brilliant, the scenery is gorgeous, the writing is pinpoint accurate about the foibles of the well-to-do, the neurotic narcissists who run our world or wish to, and their damaged, overentitled progeny. There is a cruelty to their pleasure seeking, their need to dominate, the sense in which there is never enough luxury, never enough distinction, never enough understanding on the part of the staff that these guests are there to reinforce their own need to feel special, enlightened, unquestioned.

They were indeed, like the lotus eaters of Greek mythology — a race of people so addicted to eating the fruits and flowers of the lotus plant that they lolled in apathy, desiring only their next fix, drawing even the unwitting into their hedonism.

Is this what Emily and I wanted, if on a B or C list property rather than the elegant tropical paradise that is The White Lotus? For all of our difficulties over the last year, for all of the heartache, the loss, the strain, we are still the lucky ones. We are not unemployed, homeless, about to be evicted, facing daunting unpaid medical bills, doing without heat, or air conditioning or even electricity either from a natural disaster or the whims of a utility company judging us in arrears.

At its root, our desire to get away was a need to, just for a few days, be taken care of, be liberated from our caregiving responsibilities. She, the mother of a pandemic toddler, I the wife — now widow — of an endstage cancer patient, WE WERE JUST EXHAUSTED.

And now, three months later, a bit refreshed, we have agreed that when it is safe to do so we will spend a weekend day together doing what we please — perhaps a museum and a lunch and a mani/pedi, or a massage and a movie. It will be enough to be together without responsibilities for just a few hours, enjoying each other’s company, nurturing ourselves and each other, helping the city that we love get back on its feet rather than traveling to a far off isle, where dark forces of exploitation may await beneath the palm fronds, with overindulgence served on platters at poolside. It will be enough.

22 thoughts on “The White Lotus: Or How Not to Become a Lotus Eater”

  1. I think you illustrate the line between narcisstic self-indulgence and nurturing for the soul so well. One is a cup that can never be filled and the other is a cup made of gratitude that needs an occasional top-off brought by a change of perspective! Your self-care and Emily’s are well-deserved however you decide to go about it!

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  2. This is the best piece in White Lotus that I have read. I enjoyed it as well.
    So hope you and your daughter get to break where you can relax, escape foe a bit and enjoy each other’s company. This is a break we all need right now.

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  3. I just watched a few episodes of White Lotus because I was staying for the weekend at my daughter’s home after they tested negative for COVID on their return from Maui. (I don’t have a TV in my room in my Assisted Living home.) My daughter and her family had rented a small house with my son-in-law’s relatives just down the beach from the resort where they filmed the show. Their experience was radically different than those ultra wealthy folks in the show and they were were amazed to see the same beach on film that they had traversed on their daily walks. Going to Hawaii at all had been a weighty decision but they finally decided it was a safer choice to follow through with earlier plans than deciding if they were going to send their toddler to daycare or not on their return. My grandson’s baby brother will be born just about the time my professor daughter’s college semester will be finishing up. They had a small window of opportunity to relax after this difficult year and were so relieved to return home COVID-free even after delayed flights and unplanned layovers in large airports. Privileged and underprivileged alike have had their lives upended during the current crisis. I can’t know if will ultimately prove to be a healthy leveler as all areas of our interlocking economies are undergoing so much uncertainty, but I surely hope so.


    1. Wow! A fascinating coincidence! Of course the show was fictional but in so many ways it rang true to me. I agree that the decisions about daycare especially with a new baby on the way (congratulations!) are more fraught. I’m glad to hear that travel wasn’t as perilous as I fear. I’m hoping to fly to LA again to see my grandson and family in their new house.


  4. White Lotus has been on in my house, but I am so inattentive to the TV these days, I’m afraid I missed the point of it. What doesn’t escape me is the final sentiment you write of here; maybe we begin the rebuilding of lives right where we stand. Slowly reaching out from there we can widen the circle and better appreciate the places we live, the people we love and the lives we must now more fully inhabit again. Thank you for writing. 

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  5. There’s something to be said for self-indulgence, particularly after such a very hard year. In fact, it’s not indulgence at all. It’s self care. Your psyche is beyond bruised–it’s abraded. You are as deserving of pampering, as is your daughter, for the loses and the pain of the past year. It is hard to make an effort when you are struggling to cope with emotional turmoil. But finding a safe place to breathe, and find your feet again? Priceless. And worth a little time and money spent solely on girding you for the year to come. Good luck. Be kind to yourself and each other. The world can wait, at least a little while.

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  6. I hope it’s enough. You have earned the island indulgence too. Vacation is not all the dark underbelly of the 1 percent. Those resorts are full of middle class folks renting time with the spoiled.

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  7. I also watched White Lotus. It may have a negative impact on travel to Hawaii. My wife and I have been planning to take the family to Hawaii next summer, presumably post Pandemic, to celebrate our 75th birthdays and some family graduations. My Samoan daughter-in-law and her husband have already bailed. They have been to Hawaii several times (sometimes as a layover on the way to Samoa to visit her mother) and my daughter-in-law has pre-existing issues surrounding how the privileged have treated tropical islanders. Not coincidentally they informed us of their decision to withdraw immediately after viewing the final episode of White Lotus.

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  8. Dear Trish,
    You do write beautifully and think clearly. I will miss having you as a part of the Green Study group, but I am glad to have the opportunity to read your work here. I think you have chosen wisely to spend your time with your established group; we (all of us) have little enough to go around!
    In considering the subject of Lotus Eaters, I would like to share that I live on an Island, on the fringes of ‘Resort Life’, with pointless aggression and entitled children finding their way into my radar daily. Luckily, the concept of aloha, as a spiritual practice, pairs nicely with my own. I can take the opportunity to wish them well in the same ways I wish myself well: insight and compassion. Everything is practice. Nothing is easy. I may watch it, but I may find it is too close to home for me now.
    Finally, I have given a few deep night hours to considering your path of memoir as a response to loss and the unavoidable work of mourning. I am greatly moved by the concept of choosing creation in the midst of pain, and hope I will manage such grace, even in some small way. Such courage contains powerful hope. Thank you.


    1. Sorry to be so slow getting back to you. Thank you so much for this thoughtful response to my work and my situation. I enjoyed our Green Study group and wish you well going forward but I am trying to husband my energies (no pun intended…). Dan and I wanted very much to visit Hawaii and I still hope to get there some day!


      1. Well, touch base when you do. We are on the Big Island and will be glad to guide your experience.
        Even unintentional puns are lovely. It is important to know that husbandry is open to all, even the gals.
        Beautiful words you are guiding. Best of luck.


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