when pictures fail me…
As my departure date approaches, I tackle my “to do” list with what starts as self-willed calm. I have a week to get it all together, not only into one carry-on bag, but more important, in my head.
It’s not long before these simple, numbered, linear notes to myself morph into Medusa-like snakes, taunting me with their refusal to be nailed with a big red checkmark. All the while, my friends and family are the Greek chorus: “Hawaii! Aren’t you excited?!”
No. I’m not. At least, not yet. The gushing anticipation I once felt about air travel has evaporated into a slow, water torture drip of anxiety. Much more insidious than outright adrenalized fear, my train of thought is gridlocked, my ankles shackled, just when I should be doing a “happy feet” dance.
It’s not so much about being 38,000 feet in the air in a machine that weighs 250,000 pounds, or fear of brain-freeze in an emergency (which tab do I pull? And when?) Or leaving my babies behind for two weeks with a revolving door of house- and cat-sitters, or smoke and carbon monoxide alarms going off, with or without reason. Or a blizzard stranding me in the midwest for days. Or terrorists with box cutters, or forgetting to turn off the iron, or missing a lucrative assignment. Or leaving a rotten banana behind. Actually, I take it back–I can checkmark all of the above. It’s about all of that, and more. Mostly I am anxious about being anxious. Because that is something I never used to be.
I once thought nothing of jumping on an airplane, or even out of one. (Skydiving? Been off the bucket list since 1994). Adventures in traveling solo included driving dusty backroads of rural Mississippi, poking through the red clay of Vietnam’s former DMZ, and wandering unpronounceable streets of Budapest. I used to simply wing it, and now my wings feel clipped. What happened?
For one thing, technology sped up while I slowed down. I squint at my itinerary on the airline website, which assumes that I will connect to them every which way on my mobile device(s)–download their app, print my e-ticket and boarding pass, choose how often and on which device I want my updates–because, of course, it goes without even considering otherwise, an iPhone is grafted flawlessly onto my hand.
Only, it’s not. While I was trying to consciously lead a simpler and more mindful life these last few decades, apparently everyone else had shifted into Mach 3 speeds with each new release of a smart phone. What started out as choice of convenience is now defined as absolute necessity. All of this just adds to my angst. I like walking my own path (sometimes with my vintage flip phone) but right now I need to book a flight and share a Boeing 757 with people not quite on my plane, if you’ll excuse the pun. However, I’m not saying “Stop the world, I want to get off.” Not yet.
Since it’s comforting to reminisce (why else do we all do it as we age?) I think I’ll indulge a bit. I remember the tactile security of holding a solid ticket folder printed with the airline’s logo, back when corporations weren’t so omnipresent and stuck to their original brand identity. They weren’t rechristened National League ball parks or Broadway theaters; United meant “friendly skies” and that’s how it felt. I remember the luxury of checking luggage that contained folded bags strictly for the purpose of stuffing with souvenirs (some of them not even made in China!) Most of all, I remember the sense of wonder that came from looking out a window at actual clouds. Not at a screen with stuff stored on iCloud. Focusing on our planet so far below should be more mesmerizing than any app, and drifting so far from this reality saddens me even more than it makes me feel old.
I look at my online itinerary this last evening before my crack of dawn departure, and worry about the “low ink level” warning that has taken up residence on my printer–will the presses stop just as I am printing out my boarding pass? Once Mercury retrograde recedes into the cosmos, that old standby Murphy’s Law is always waiting in the wings.
With one leg in the tar pit, immersed to my pelvic bone, and the other trying to hang ten as I surf this sea of change, I am trying not to wipe out. I summon some “act as if” enthusiasm: “I am going to Hawaii!” Then I recall what used to give me nightmares when I was a young girl. I spent a lot of time at the Saturday afternoon matinee, in front of a screen so large it engulfed the entire audience. Battling dinosaurs, oozing quicksand, and lava. Molten, flowing, fiery lava, chasing and overtaking the natives who were too slow to escape.
No, I will ignore that analogy and face my Hawaii anxiety with a big “Aloha!” Then choose to hang loose, catch a wave, and I’ll be sitting on top of the world.