“This is your captain speaking”
The most dreaded words in air travel without a doubt. Nothing like being 30,000 feet in the air, meal service under way and learning the plane is turning around, back to the land you just left, no local currency in my pocket, no mobile phone and yes, the yearning deep need to return home. Just happened to me on my way back from Argentina and Chile last month.
The airport in Buenos Aires was too hot, three machines were working to check hundreds of people in, the border control line was miles long and I was tired, thirsty and ready to get back to my life. One of those nights… the plane took off an hour late and then the captain came on to say, oops, we’re turning back, the great albatross of the Boeing 777 had some fuel line issues and rather than landing somewhere else, we needed to go back and decide what to do. I enjoyed the use of the word we by our captain. Giving us all hope we’d somehow be able to be part of the decision.
And so back we went and back we sat for four hours on the runway, checked out of the country, facing days of sold out flights. Thankfully, there is a happy ending but I’ll get to that in a minute.
Have logged countless hours on airplanes by myself returning home from school, adventures, family stuff, you name it. Lots of waiting, too much thinking, trying to sleep in uncomfortable positions, always over scented by expensive duty free perfume, my mind shuffling through the last decades of my life (yes, DECADES). The walkman, then the discman, and now the iPod providing a moving soundtrack to my thoughts – my inner teen always seems to be running the show in these moments.
My mystic crystal friends would tell me it’s the unsettled energy of being in the air, adrift and ungrounded I am certain (and you that know me well, like a lot of crunch in my granola if you catch my drift). Amazing vistas, delicious food and all that being away brings me has to be followed by some sort of reckoning, right? %#$ is usually my lazy mind’s response…. can’t I just think about glaciers and empanadas?
Nope, instead, I begin to write furiously…. lists and more lists. Things I have to do when I arrive at my destination, people I need to visit, call, email that I have overlooked/neglected, bills I need to pay, places I need to visit. Have scraps and scribbles of bucket lists and plans I find all the time. From telling X that my feelings are more than friendship, to going through my closet, all of it gets reordered, re-packed away in that emotional luggage we all carry around.
Life decisions are made, relationships begun/ended, plans laid, all before the flight attendants tell me to put my seat back up for landing. I am an emotional gal (please see the mystic crystal paragraph above) and what does deep soul searching and poking about in my emotional file cabinet do… you got it – I always get embarrassingly weepy – nothing like a public cry. Usually, side benefit, I scare my anonymous seat mates into not wanting to speak to me for the rest of the flight. Note to self… always get a window seat.
My top five teary plane moments:
1. Right after my father died, I watched Whale Rider (http://www.whaleriderthemovie.co.nz/). I sobbed, a snotty nose, dripping, gasping sob – the ugliest, most embarrassing public cry on record. I am not Maori, I am not a whale rider but I was a woman who was missing her father terribly and that movie uncorked all of it. No one was watching me except my friend who could have but was blissfully asleep. The credits rolled and so did a montage of Dad, my family, advice he’d given me that I was too proud, too young to accept or realize.
2. I was headed back from Tanzania the first time and my heart/mind/soul was just too overwhelmed by all that I had seen that I just broke down. In most of the first world, many of us have so much, so so much, too much perhaps – safe water, education opportunities, good health and when not, good doctors/hospitals, but mostly, the chance to change our destiny through hard work, loans, luck… we may not feel like the USA is doing well economically but on whose scale? As much as travel can broaden my mind, it also makes me uncomfortable but like the tears, deep thoughts and all of it, well, I’ll take it. And don’t get me started on all the big cats, vast savanna of the Serengeti, zebras and all the natural world… it should be the first on the list for the two pronged attack on my psyche but Dad takes it.
3. Just to lighten the mood here…. this memory is crying from laughing so hard. My parents were wacky bohemians – there’s no better way to put it – my mother was a refugee from her staid childhood in the wealthy northern Chicago suburbs and my father an actual refugee from Cuba. See my 1st post here ever beginning at the beginning for how our family vacations usually went down. This time we were in the Atlanta airport and my bold and sassy mama’s skirt hook broke and there she was walking down a very very crowded terminal in her slip. My sister and I took off at a run and in the background, we could hear her yelling our names and glances back, there she was still clutching her skirt. Not sure why we ran, we must have been too young to realize that no one would know this crazy woman belonged to us if we just pretended she didn’t. Reunited at the gate, my family boarded the next plane, laughing so hard we were crying. It’s not really that funny unless you have met my mother and understand she has a voice that can be heard in space when she wants to but that day, overtired and headed home from a trip to the Cuban relatives, well, we cried the best kind of tears together.
4. The study abroad cries – am cheating because this is really two times. I was lucky when I was just eighteen to be able to move to London for a school year for my first year of college. Apparently, my parents, who had traveled by themselves in their late teens/early twenties, felt I was up to the responsibility of being overseas for months – I really wasn’t so sure about that. Nonetheless, I remember being terrified and thrilled all at the same time. I left that August and two minutes into the first flight, the reality hit me and the tears busted loose. My very best friend had come to the airport too – headed off for her own adventure in the South Pacific later that month and we wouldn’t see each other for a long long time – endless hours on the phone would have to be replaced by onion skin paper letters – boy trouble would become possible telenovela scripts. And yes, the snuffling whalerider cry (see #1) …. it was on like Donkey Kong. This story has a happy ending…. a reprieve at Christmas, I got to come home for a few weeks and if we flash forward to that newly christened Londoner’s flight back, I cried because I wasn’t the little girl who left. I cried then because I knew I was going back to a world where I was going to not quite fit into. I cried because maybe just maybe part of me knew forever more, I would be stricken with incredible and joyful wanderlust (I doubt this last part but I like to give that emo 18 year old some credit).
5. The grateful cry…. of course this post has to have a circular theme so this is my this is your captain speaking cry of just a month ago. When the plane finally did re-take off (headed for Puerto Rico, then JFK – a miracle solution to a bum fuel line – we’d just do the long haul in medium hauls instead), I cried the tears of a traveler who is overtired but who’s caught a bit of luck. A similar cry to my Tanzania moment but I am older now, I’ve been even more places and I am a different sort of grateful. I choose this moment as the last on my list because in so many ways, it’s the accumulation of all the others. I am a woman now – not a young twenty something who has lost her father (I personally hate this expression – I do know where he is & what happened… he’s not actually lost but never mind, using it), not the wide eyed young tourist who is evolving into a traveler (a post for another day, the difference between a tourist & a traveler), not the teenager who is having her first moments of adulthood in a foreign land, not the young girl who is learning not to take embarrassment so seriously & remembering to laugh with her family (I have elevated this to a fine art). I am all of those teary people and more. I think age can make you grateful for the small things – the $10 bill you find in your pocket, the many online and real life friends that populate my life, my sweet dear family who have been here for the whole ride, and yes, the realization that I didn’t have to get off that plane until I was back on my own soil, didn’t have find my bag, didn’t have to find a place to sleep, didn’t have to fight lines and more lines to get myself home the next day. I cried that night just a month ago because I am blessed, I am lucky and yes, I am grateful for the people, the lands, the sights, the experiences I have had and will have more of in this world.