In a stunning turn of events, i was in an airport.
In not so spectacular events, i was headed home for what looked to be a funeral for my grandmother.
I should have known it was going to be nightmarish. I had to fly through not one, but two of my absolute least favorite airports in the whole world: Heathrow, and JFK. People crammed in yellow-sign-lit hallways and endless bus rides between terminals. I did not relish the journey, but i relished the 400 dollars cheaper ticket. Gritting my teeth and bearing it was in order.
It began with my intended carry-on being snapped shut with a white-and-black luggage tag. Too big for Europe, apparently. Backpack on my sunburnt shoulders and bleary eyes searching for my 7 am take-off gate, i bid adieu to Edinburgh and a good morning to London. A two hour layover became three. I practiced yoga in the terminal to remain calm; a lively American doctor now living in Nairobi joined me. She asked my least favorite question: why do you study religion? An interrogation later, i was grateful for her diplomacy but weary of people. I had, after all, woken up to a 3 AM alarm.
A blessing: the seats behind my ticketed place were empty. I claimed them, napping curled-cat syle in between movies about Paris on my personal TV. Snappy and sassy flight attendants left me snacks for when i woke. Being kind to service workers always pays off.
A hiccup: we landed in JFK with twenty minutes for me to clear customs and board my next flight. Lip-biting and nail-chewing windled those minutes down as we taxi’d to the terminal. Thick New York accents pulled me out of line, handing me two boarding passes in an offensively orange envelope with instructions to use the enclosed cab voucher to get to LaGuardia for my rescheduled flight.
Two boarding passes?
A man in a black kilt and rollings r’s of beloved Scotland inquired after his own ticket. We shared a surname and an RDU destination. Suddenly, this was my brother Callum and we, having flown from Edinburgh to Heathrow to JFK and (in theory) to RDU, were travel mates.
Another man with an Eastern North Carolina drawl and the same name as my own J joined us, and then we were three.
A blessing: we got to skip the queues in customs and our bags were pulled for us. The immigration officers loved my Obama-sticker-covered water bottle. My newfound Scottish brother was held back for his greencard, so travel-J and i hailed our cab and counted the ticking minutes to our departure. A fifteen minute cab ride, they said.
Twenty minutes later, we arrived with barely thirty minutes to get to the gate.
I’d prepped with two puffs from my inhaler, willing my tiny lungs to hold out.
A sprint and shoeless security check later, i was wheezingly wheeling my reclaimed suitcase to gate C4. I mentally ran through the yoga routine i would do at home to un-knot my ribcage and shoulders. I scanned the crowd, anticipating the line to be forming for the flight –
only to find this flight was delayed by another half an hour.
A deep breath. Another. And suddenly, i was calm. I had thirty minutes to breathe, so i ventured into the WC for a freshening up. Positive vibes, i thought. Child’s pose, and release. Ready to collapse in my real-J’s waiting hands and elbows and arms, cat-curling into a sleep that was not suspended between armrests. Staying in a centered place, a focused place. Just get home. Travel-J loaned me his phone, i made the calls.
Two hours and a sweet tea in hand later, i was home. Too late to say goodbye to my Granny, but in time to hold my own mother’s hand when the undertakers arrived. It’s been a long few days of casseroles left at the door and family in black. It’s good, if hard, to be home. There’s no place so beautiful as North Carolina when the dogwoods are in bloom. Especially when spring blossoms can so remind me of life in the midst of honoring a death.
And no journey, no matter how frustrating, discounts that.