22 January, 2010

T minus 38 hours: actualizing

I don't know if it's the same for everyone, but things often have a way of not seeming 'real' to me until i'm staring over their edge, about to leap. So it is in the past two days. Saying goodbye to family, to the Collie dog i never spend enough time with, visiting my mother's grave on a snowy night - those moments made me feel every last centimeter about to separate me from the physical and mental places i call home.

It wasn't something i planned; it was coincidence to be on that road. I hadn't been to the cemetery since that morning last June when the earth was still fresh on the grave, so i turned off the state road and down a badly plowed side street, crossed the railroad tracks. A deer leapt away from the headlights; the meadow at Rainbow's End spread silent and white. No headstones punctuate the crystal blanket, so i trudged through the knee-deep powder until i came to the spot between the pine and cherry trees on the knoll, and stood there for a long time. I'm sure the soil fauna have done their work; little remains of her body now - but still the inner spaces she used to fill resonate with a sense of nearness. Still there is a lot of goodbye left to say.


Until college, i had never spent much time around my peers, and as a consequence, when i moved to campus, little identified me with them. My first short-term roommate was Wooseok, an outgoing Korean, and the day we met he introduced me to many other Asian students. In the coming weeks i met international students from the world over - Turkey, Azerbaijan, Ireland, Austria, Japan, and China, to name a few. And i felt something in common with them. (Later, i could put my finger on it: i felt like foreigner to mainstream America.) Yet something separated us; as open as i could be to embracing new cultures, they were the ones who were out on a limb. I could never become one of them by osmosis. They, only they, knew what it was like to step into a strange place and hear people speaking a strange language and three meals a day taste strange dining-hall food.

I have been mulling on this - what to call it? - this initiation. The rite that only begins with the price of the ticket. The rite of visa applications and pocket dictionaries. It isn't until i'm staring it in the face this thing becomes real. As i inch closer to the airport, closer to being borne through the nationless air, i can see everything that separated me from the internationals - and watch it evaporate.

19 January, 2010

"Send me your itinerary, just in case..."

Today's post was going to be a meditation on belonging - on that sense i used to have of having something, and yet nothing, in common with the internationals in my residence hall. But anyone who travels knows that things don't always go according to schedule. "The art of travel," says a character in that aptly titled film, "is to deviate from the current plan." (Too bad it was such a lame film.)

Instead, today's post will be about a split second of rude, unexpected shock.

The farewell gathering i'd planned yesterday turned out to be small, thanks to the snow. Of the six of us, i was the only one who's never left North America. And listening to everyone's stories, i began to wish i'd allocated more time for travel after the semester abroad. So many places to visit near Turkiye, and cheap enough to do once you're there. But - i prudently told myself - i'm not changing the ticket now.

Around 2 this afternoon, i opened an email from Emin, a friend in Ankara. "Send me your itinerary, just in case," he wrote. Cut, paste. Wait. I caught my breath. January 19? That's today. I bought a ticket for today? I looked at the clock, out the window, read the itinerary again. 4:30 PM January 19. It's 2 PM already. Boston is a five-hour drive away, and it's snowing. A few choice words came to mind. 19. January 19? $#@&!

It took more than one deep breath to master the moment. To get past the thought i am so screwed, the feeling of being completely at a loss. Better get used to it. It took a bit longer to get past the feeling of utter incompetence. And they're going to give this guy a degree? The Tuesday flight, or the Thursday flight: same airline, same time, same price. The truth is, it's pretty easy to click the wrong button. And when you believe you've hit the right one, sometimes you read the date and it doesn't even register.

Two hours later, i'd have been unable to change the ticket. Aside from the jarring moment, it was a chance to practice serenity - to accept the things i can't change, and change the one thing i could - my ticket. So while i was at it…i tagged another two weeks onto the return end as well. Sometimes life makes you take the opportunities you had written off as too expensive. And i have a feeling this won't be the last learning experience tagged "stupid travel mistakes".