Going Somewhere

For my dad (1963-2011), who flew away....


We settled down at the east end of the airport, waiting for the next flight. Everything was quiet. It was the time of morning when people are not willing, under any circumstances, to put their energy toward movement, conversation, or politeness. We were sleepy humans, sleepy animals, without any sense of direction. However, there was one man who chose to whistle out the music he was hearing in his headphones. I wondered how he had managed to get his brain on right at this hour. He had exceptional whistling talent, but his cheeriness was considered a curse to premature ears. A woman turned around in her seat and sent a quick look in his direction. Her look was intentional yet kind, saying, “Do you mind?” That should have been enough, but he didn’t get the message.

My father and I were on standby. We didn’t get a spot on the first flight at 7 a.m. Actually, we assumed that there was room for us on the plane and we boarded prematurely. A snappy woman in uniform quickly dusted us from the plane. She reminded me of a drill sergeant. She was so efficiently forceful that if she had asked us to strip down to our underwear, we would have done so without thought.

After being embarrassed out of our seats, we soon realized that the next chance to fly would come at 1:45 p.m.—a time that made a mockery of our 4 a.m. tear from slumber. Seating at the far window allowed us to watch the sunrise. The sky was plain, but our lethargy made it a bright and welcoming heaven. The heat from the sun was a comfort inside the chilly airport, and the light was met with the welcome of newborn skin. I was amazed by the grid of the large window. There was a perfect combination of solid lines and clear panes stretching up to the ceiling. I felt like I was ready to be transported to the most ethereal place the imagination could construct. Moving bodies around me became a family, strange voices were kinsmen. The climbing sun pulled me out of the age and talked to me about the beginning and the end, time made no difference. Those seven hours shouldn’t have gone by so fast. I was uninterested with the technology I carried with me, electronic things bound by a battery, a battery bound to an outlet, an outlet bound to a current. Satisfaction was waiting for me, waiting on me through all hours of the day and night. This contentment had nothing to do with a power chord. 

All the cells in my body rang with tiredness, so I likened the whole experience to death, I guess. I probably pulled myself into a dreamer’s paradise and willed myself to stay longer than I should have. 

We didn’t get a spot on the 1:45 flight either, but I wasn’t disappointed. I was content to see what the day would bring in place of my own plans. We called a friend to see if she could give us a ride back to the places where we slept. We waited. The front of the airport was a cosmic living room, equipped with seating and misplaced families. A mild hurricane had kissed the East Coast and delayed all the airlines for a couple days. We sat in the middle of a large Greek family; I had ignorantly assumed that they were Hispanic until my dad asked what language they were speaking. There must have been three or four generations of them. I felt included, yet I watched them like a fly on the wall. They gracefully switched from Greek to English without missing a beat. They just relaxed as if they had been raising children in the airport for years. Yes, I was glad that they were there and they did not seem to mind that two strangers were camped in middle of them. I was also glad they couldn’t see the scenes of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” running through my head (“He don’t eat no meat?”). 

The airline crunch had been relieved and my dad and I were able to come back to the airport two days later. We came back at the same early hour, to the same room temperature, to the same morning stillness, and to the same unwillingness to disturb or be disturbed. We made it on a jet, and we got where we were headed in good time. 

After 23 years of sprinting from one place to the next, I realized that there is such a meaningful difference between where I am going and what is going on where I am. One is an eye for the next minute and the other is an eye for the present. Living dominates planning and “being” is the ultimate fire for living. The simplest things are a universe all their own, yielding details that only the now can hold. Catch a look, catch a thought, catch stillness and silence, catch a break, catch a wait, catch a plane.


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