It can hardly be a coincidence that no language on earth has ever produced the expression, “As pretty as an airport.”
― Douglas Adams, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul
Well, true. It’s also true that no one clamors to build airports near their homes. And yet, each airport holds a certain beauty. It speaks of possibilities and dreams, it reminds us there are places to be explored, and it seems to promise that someone will come to us. There is a beauty. Except, as everyone knows, in Newark.
Airports have hive-like quality; bees move about with insane paradoxical frenzy. It all seems carefully orchestrated – each insect knowing its part. Yet they repeatedly bump into one another other, always appearing surprised and agitated to find another bee in its way. And like an airport, there is a sense that no one knows what’s really going on, or how it all works, they’re simply compelled into action.
Below the surface of endless energy and coordinated chaos, something else is happening in an airport. Change.
Always a leaving or an arriving – away from someone, towards something. Change.
Change because the leaver is in a state of loss, while the arriver is heady with expectations of something new.
The dizzying logistics of the process of this transit often masks the tumor growing underneath. The leaving behind of people we dearly love, of places that give us comfort, and of belonging. Oh, that sense of belonging. And we know this tumor won’t always remain benign.
For those of us who are experts at leaving, the effects manifest early. Grief starts long before Leaving Day. We move from seeking out firsts to cataloging a series of lasts. The last weekend, the last night in your home, the last Monday, the last good bye, the last happy hour, the last last. These lasts seem petty and inconsequential to the non-leaver. But it’s a ceremony that is a preemptive strike towards closure. We steel ourselves to the loss of relationships, making it harder to allow people we like to gain any foothold. You know, because that would inevitably lead to more loss.
The bitter irony is the perceived loss of something un-experienced is often greater than the loss of something we have experienced. Leavers can’t ignore the call to leave. Well, not to leave, but to go. To go somewhere and experience something. Yes, even when the cost feels too high. Like the paradox of magnets – the closer you’re drawn to something permanent, the higher the risk of suddenly and violently flipping around and being pushed away from it. I once was told I just need to be content where I am. And I am. I choose to be content wherever I am. I just find that one place is never enough.
As I looked out the airplane window, heavy with the loss of leaving the people and places I love, the setting sunlight caught my watch face and fragmented light spread in all directions. That told the story of my life – so many fragmented chapters full of characters, scenes and experiences that rarely intersected. So many sounds, smells, faces, behaviors, rules, and values swirled together. Always the stranger in a strange land. A chameleon.
And as I continue to pass along the same leaver qualities to the rest of my family – the same recurring grief of loss, the feeling you don’t belong to something or someone, always being the stranger – I know I also pass along a set of gifts which were given to me as a child. To be okay with change, to adapt to a changing world, to accept those different than you, to wonder, to explore, to be inspired, to see opportunity where others don’t, to always pursue something.
After all, a leaver is always an arriver.
Douglas Adams, who frequently says things well, makes the point:
“I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.”
— Douglas Adams The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul