Friday, November 18, 2011

Over the River and Through the Woods

As I write, I am taking into account last minute travel preparations. Electrical cords must be unplugged. The heat must be turned down low. Don't forget the coffee pot. Bags must be checked, then rechecked. What have I forgotten? I always forget something. Is there any way to avoid NOT forgetting something? Whatever I misplace can usually be purchased upon reaching my destination, should it be essential.

Several months back, I bought an expensive and very large piece of luggage. Prior bags were not quite large enough for long trips, and I was tired of having to get extremely creative in cramming. A week's worth of laundry, for me, is two full loads in a washing machine. The purchase was also a way to avoid having to pay extra for checked luggage. I look at it across the room from me, still open, waiting for the last of my material possessions. It is a deep shade of royal blue. Once upright, it handles a little like driving a boat, or perhaps a Cadillac.

My inner monologue will soon read like this.

Don't forget tickets. Don't forget tickets. Don't forget a photo ID. Don't lose your boarding pass. What else? What else? What else?

Considering the distance in miles, the flight never lasts very long. It's a fairly perfunctory trip. As far as flight paths are concerned, it's more or less a straight shot. Sometimes we arrive very early and circle around until given permission to land. Other options don't exist. Thirteen or fourteen hours in a car is not feasible, nor is twenty-two on a train. The entire flight is almost a little comical. We take off, climb to the appropriate cruising altitude, stay there for approximately thirty minutes, then begin the descent.

Today, as soon as I make my way outside the apartment, I go from a bus to a train to a train to a plane. In that order. After roughly two hours in a aluminum tube, I strain to hear gate assignments as overhead bins click open all around me. The world shrinks. DC efficiency, affluence, and punctuality have been left behind. I adopt the familiar slower pace, my gait falling back into all the old rhythms. The airport back home has a preponderance of barbecue joints and old carpet. It looks like a house that is clean and tidy, but showing its age.

My father's face or my mother's face or both will greet me. Those picking up passengers line the sides of a long white railing. Astride wave after wave of the arrived, airline pilots and crews ascend the escalator leading into the terminal. The airport is small enough that all traffic is funneled through exactly one security point. There was a time, before 11 September 2001, where whomever was waiting for me could stand by the gate. Now only ticketed passengers are allowed there. I've made that short trip by foot many times, so many I've lost count.

On travel days, I am especially aware of the Testimony of Simplicity. Each Quaker Testimony is meant to be applied to the self first and foremost. When I am confronted with how much stuff I have to take with me, I wonder about my priorities. I wonder about the priorities of this consumer society of which I am a part. Am I doing enough to prune down to only that which I need? I feel like I do fairly well in that regard, but I can always do more.

As I gorge myself on turkey and several side dishes made only once a year for the holiday, I can't help but notice the irony. I've never been the sort of person who was unduly upset by Starving Children in Africa™. Instead, I've tried to let my life's example show for who I am, instead of taking the opportunity to beat up on myself for not being perfect and pure.

As I conclude, I was recently re-introduced to a Mary Oliver poem, one I had not read in years. I enclose it here.

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

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