Friday, January 3, 2014
London Gatwick Airport.
Once again in the twilight zone of moving trains planes buses blurring faces clicking shoes thunking bags accents and languages and people streaming and teeming and swirling.
I love airports. I really do. They are a comfort zone. I know where I can sling my back pack down and lean against it, I know where I can pull out my sleeping bag and crash out, I like waiting for flights or spending the night or people watching. Being in an airport is like being in a lost pocket of time, being in no man’s land, neutral ground everyone a stranger with only travel in common. It is a unique space in time, a world that belongs to no one and everyone at the same time.
There is love in an airport, sopping goodbye’s and devil-may-care-who-sees-me kisses hello – couples bumping heavy bags and careening towards parked cars and buses, stopping in the middle of nowhere tile laughing and locking eyes and lips and smiles in the moment of you you you-again.
There is the trepidation that often comes with any journey, the when do I check in and where and is my flight on time and who will meet me on the other side and am I really doing this and will my world change when I get back will I get back if I get back. Of maybe it is leaping and there is no back at all. There are the ones that never flew before, that circle anxiously studying departure boards, ask everyone with a name tag the same questions, hold up the line in front of you. I hope to never be angry with that person. Doing anything for the first time should be applauded, respected, admired. They might not move with the same finesse but they are moving, they are seeking, they are going. And compared to the way I handle subway navigation they look like seasoned champions.
There is the man in the Stetson and snakeskin boots holding a dozen red roses. The young one in the black business suit holding a neat white black lettered sign – who is he meeting, where have they come from? is he wishing with starched posture that he is curled up in bed, away from the world of suits and ties and smooth glass tables and men that sit in circles? How do the pressed suits walking towards him stay so…wrinkle free? I wonder who they are in their free time, what do you drink? are you a whiskey man, do you prefer scotch? where would you go if you had a week to be anywhere? who would you take?
There is the couple with the bright colors and odd instruments, squatting against the wall with their backpacks, the girl with wild hair and billowing powder blue genie pants. There are the mothers with sensible haircuts and rolling bags pulling packs of cheese crackers and juice bottles from thin plastic shopping bags, the sleepers with back to the milieu shirts slung over eyes spooning luggage. There is a garish smooth trimmed mammoth of a Christmas tree, angel-less tip almost touching ceiling style, silky red and dull golden bulbs and lights locked in a slow jerking mandala of twinkle. I like it. I hope for the tree’s sake it’s a fake; trees should be wild and tangled and windblown and sunlight, cloud dreamers with root fingers twisting gentle opened deep in the belly of the earth.
There is relief in an airport. Relief to be back. To be home. To be off the flight. To be finally here, to be at the beginning of the first sentence in a new book, to wander a new chapter, to buy a different ticket and change how the story ends. Relief: to walk back into air conditioning or come home from a war or a mission or a trek, to re-enter a world you weren’t sure you would live to see again. There is culmination of long and impossible journeys of suffering, strips of sacred smooth tarmac a universal Statue of Liberty. Or relief to enter these doors, following signs to “departure,” to have crossed out that list and tied up and buttoned down and passed on all those things that bound you just moments before. In the airport you can take a deep breath, it can finally be real. You can allow yourself to be excited, to be scared, to meditate or wrap your head around what it means to change your life. It can finally be just YOU – whoever you want or need to be. Relief that whatever it is – it is finally happening. There is magic in beginnings.
I have met life-long friends in airports, or strangers I still keep in touch with, people that are in my life because of a simple "hello." Hikers, writers, dreamers, madmen - passionate humans that went where they wanted to go. People that long to see the world - and are seeing it. Backpackers that summited Kilimanjaro, a couple from San Francisco that stayed in a tent in the Kenyan bush, booted up and on Safari, tourists that traveled travel will travel. Awe and respect. For them, for anyone, that in any way, stepped outside of their world, and moved towards a dream. These are my greatest teachers. This is the shiver of alive.
So now I’m sitting in a great room with a winking cone of a Christmas tree surrounded by sleepers and families and readers, cleaners dragging clattering/chugging thump rolling yellow carts, strange fingers tapping laptop lullaby, crinkle of sandwich wrapping, murmured French and the floor is looking goooood. mmmmm sleeping bag and voila bed. It’s the middle of the night and in the morning I’ll be on a plane to Nice, couchsurfing all weekend and school at the Institute de Francais on Monday morning......