When we are thrown up and down by the little waves on the surface of our existence, we become easy victims of our manipulative world, but, when we continue to hear the deep gentle voice that blesses us, we can walk through life with a stable sense of well-being and true belonging. Henri Nowen “Life of the Beloved”
Please forgive my absence in writing here this week; I was away on holiday. (I just like that word better than “vacation”). It was my first real vacation with just my daughter and I since my husband died and in many ways, it felt significant. Before we left though, I felt a lot of anxiety, and my Aunt suggested that it was because when we travel, things might not go exactly as we planned. It also had a lot to do with the fact that a) my husband died while traveling, and b) I feel his absence a lot more on trips away from our “routine.” But in general, we sure do like things to go as we plan them. A few weeks ago, as I was picking up my daughter from school, I overheard another mother talking about how a power outage at her preschooler’s school had changed her whole day around. She had planned to go to the gym, and do this and that – but when she had to pick up her daughter- “It was just, ugh, it just threw everything off!” she said. These types of conversations are a bit hard for me to hear sometimes. I get it, and I still experience the irritation of inconvenience and plans gone awry, but I think by middle age, and certainly after loss, we come to expect days like this. In fact, life is mostly full of them.
But when we travel, we feel more vulnerable when plans fall through. We have no home base, no friends to complain to, and only a few days to enjoy a trip we’ve spent a lot of money on, make memories, and take photographs worthy of social media display. Nowhere are we more out of control and vulnerable than on an airplane. Both on our flight to our destination and on the return flight, the captain’s voice came on, for different reasons- saying, “Folks, I have some good news and some bad news.” The first time it was because we had been rerouted before even taking off due to bad weather so we had to go back to the terminal and get more fuel. But, he said, it shouldn’t take too long and we’d be cleared for take-off quickly. On the return flight, we started out with an early arrival time, but again, on came the captain’s captainy voice (I do love the captainy voice) saying, “I have good news and bad news folks. They’ve put us in a holding pattern because the weather’s deteriorated a little.” But the good news was that since we were early- we’d still be on time. I decided their good news was just the bad news disguised. One in the same. And on my trip, I found very much the same principal held true- but in a good way.
You know that saying, “Wherever you go, there you are.” The bad news is- it’s true- wherever you go, there you are. Even though you’re on vacation, and in a tropical local- wearing a floppy straw hat and sunglasses- you might still find you’re… a bit uptight. You might catch yourself still making the hotel bed when you wake up and saying, “C’mon, we gotta get going” a lot, when you really don’t. You might want to get down to that beautiful beach before anyone else- and you might find you still don’t know exactly what to do with yourself when you do.
The good news- wherever you go- there you are. You’re a woman who bought a floppy straw hat. You wear it well and even though you wake up early and make your bed- and even though you reflect a lot and worry you can’t be as “fun” as your husband was- you watch the sun rise every morning from your ocean front room and you order your daughter room service- breakfast in bed- just because she thinks it’s the most wonderful thing.
“Hey there folks, this is your captain. I have some good news- and some bad news.”
The bad news is, when you travel- things might not go as planned. You might try out that coping mechanism for anxiety your therapist suggested for take-off…lifting your feet and trying to keep them lifted up until you’ve reached flying altitude. Instead of finding it a helpful distraction- you might find it makes you lose all equilibrium and tears might start streaming down your face as you snap the rubber band you wore on your wrist to prevent a full blown panic attack. In the shared shuttle to your resort, your daughter, unable to see over the seat in front of her, might become very nauseous on the tropically lush, but narrow, winding roads. Another passenger might hand you a plastic bag as you ask her every few minutes, “How are you doing? Are you OK? We’re almost there.” When you finally get up to your hotel room, you might be utterly disappointed at the “Deluxe Oceanfront View” you splurged on when you open up the curtains and see mostly land and pastel colored houses but only a teensy bit of ocean. It might be cloudy and gusty so you won’t know what to do, but you attempt your original itinerary which involves walking a winding road to a lighthouse as it starts to rain. Your feet bleed in your new shoes purchased for travel and your daughter’s straw hat blows off across the street. You’re both almost killed by oncoming traffic driving on the left side of the road which you’re unaccustomed to. It might start to pour as you get to the lighthouse so you don’t bother going up and are still heading back when your daughter says she has to go to the bathroom. You might forget your daughter’s goggles- and for three days you might have to listen to her in the pool trying desperately to swim, saying, “I wish I had my goggles.” You might keep seeing little reminders of your husband everywhere like his favorite soccer team playing on the television in the lounge. You might still guess in your mind at what he would’ve ordered on each menu at dinner every night. The last night of your benchmark trip symbolizing your independence and healing- you might take out the picture of him you always carry at dinner and set it on the table, heavy tears just sitting there in your eyes.
The good news is- things might not go as planned. You’ll tell your therapist it’s better to have your feet planted when the plane takes off at an angle at a roaring speed. But you might find some solace and strength in the fact that you recovered quickly-unnoticed by your daughter, wiped away your tears and asked her how her doll-seated next to her-was enjoying her first plane ride. Your daughter might be really nauseous, but she doesn’t puke in the shuttle to the hotel. You might find, after your utter disappointment in your lack of real ocean view, that you tell your daughter you’re taking your luggage and you’re going right back down to the lobby to get an ocean front room. And you do. You get an amazing view and weave in a lesson about standing up for yourself and not settling. On the walk back from the lighthouse, soaked and cold, bloody footed- you might keep telling her manically, “But it’s OK- these are the things you remember. This is OK. All of my favorite memories with your dad are things like this.” Yes, you may have narrowly escaped getting run down by scooters in the gusty rain while attempting to get to that lighthouse, but the whole trip, you’ll get to say, “Remember the lighthouse…” and “There’s that lighthouse” every time you see it rising up over the island. Also unplanned- on a ferry ride to town, the ferry driver might offer to let your six year old dock the boat while the other passengers look on nervously. You might stumble upon the most amazing Banyan tree on your way somewhere else and your daughter might climb it like she’s in a magical picture book cover. And the very last night, your daughter might meet a very chatty, friendly little girl from Hackensack who offers her an extra set of goggles and teaches her, just like that, how to swim underwater in the indoor pool before dinner. Your husband’s face smiles at you from the picture you set on the table. You might smile back- for just a second. I know he’s watching us from heaven- your daughter might say. And she might even sketch out a whole picture of a dream she had of heaven’s door- glass bordered with rubies and diamonds- on the hotel stationary before bed.
“This is your captain. I have some good news. They’ve taken us out of the holding pattern and I should have us on the ground in about 15-20 minutes.”
The bad news, of course, at the end of it all- you come home.
And the good news-you probably guessed- at the end of it all- you come home.