We began our own personal Brexit early on a Monday morning. Big hugs, thanks for coming, and thanks for having us–all exchanged as the Uber drove to take us from corner of Arlington and Denbigh for the last time. The corner flat that had been our home for 19 days began to recede in the distance as we made our way through Ealing to Heathrow.
The flight home to the Promised Land was a tale unto itself. While we were in line to check our luggage, a family queued behind us, and their three year old went into full Linda Blair meltdown mode when their six year old wouldn’t relinquish his suitcase to his little brother’s whim. “Hate to be on that kid’s flight,” we said. In London security, I lost a jar of English Mustard and Horseradish respectively. Apparently, I didn’t figure out they were liquids. Also, I forgot to switch my knife from my backpack to my suitcase. So, while I am down one knife, at least they didn’t think I was a terrorist and give me the full cavity search.
The plane was full, and I hoped to get some sleep, as Nic noted that I was barely awake as I was walking through the airport. I even began eyeing the full empty row of seats to my left as a crash spot. But as the doors closed, Nic said, “Ooooh…. Fuuuuuudge.” It could only be one thing. The terror slid right in beside me. So, long story short, I caught two movies on the international flight along with two complimentary Goose Island IPA’s. Back to American brew. The mom was not so lucky. Her precious little darling threw her wine on the floor, so she had little succor as he bit and hit her and repeatedly kicked the seat in front–seven and a half hours. Sweetheart, would you please stop? Here’s a better question. Where’s a Benadryl Blow Dart when you need one?
In Newark, our turn around from one plane to the next was under two hours. We had to grab our luggage, check it back in about 200 hundred yards (not meters–back in the States) further. We had to go outside one terminal to get to another to make our connecting flight, which got us caught on a train with some very confused and oblivioius French girls with large suitcases, so Nic pulled out the teacher voice to move them, much to the pilots’ mirth. But that gave us little special status, as we had to go through security again, which means the water you put in your water bottle on the plane from London is no longer safe to board on the plane to Charlotte. The guy thought he was doing me a solid by letting me back in at the front of the line to empty my pockets again after I poured the water out–and I guess he was–but I’ve still to travel through an airport security in any city that has not make me think of the term “security theater.” Down, down, down, all the way to the anus of the C concourse in Newark. We had to hurry cause in twenty minutes we’d be boarding at the terminal gate. Somebody help me get outta New Jersey, just help me get to Queen City town. The flight just long enough for pretzels and a cup of ginger ale. Swing low chariot, come down easy. The flight was over, and we had or bags soon. Kristen met us at the front and took us immediately for Mexican food and Mojitos with Drew. Nic’s chips and salsa reserves had been depleted and she needed a re-up stat! In fact, two days later we went and re-upped just to make sure she didn’t lapse.
The journey is over. There’s lots of weight and implications in those four worlds. Back home. Laundry in process. My backpack has switched from travel to toting books. Back to work tomorrow.
Wanderlust sated? Not bloody likely. Inevitably, you can get roped into the “next time we come here” conversation, imagining how you would do it differently. Inevitably, you begin to realize all thing things you didn’t get time to do or see, things you didn’t even know you could do or see until you got here. And then there’s the “where do you want to go next” conversation, which for Nic and me began at some point over the Atlantic on our London to Newark flight.
To put an even more modern twist on this, by penning these epistles the last few weeks, I’ve connected to others in the online community who do the same: travel, write, photograph, document, share. From reading these tales, I’ve begun to daydream about other out of the way places where my boots and backpack may take me in the future. You fellow bloggers have read this blog as it chronicled our travels, and I have read yours. I imagine your wonder and hope you’ve enjoyed us sharing ours.
But for now, our world traveling is on pause. Soon (after our end-of-trip awards–coming soon!!!), this blog will become a bit less travel-centric for a while. I’ll still be taking camping trips on the east coast, and Nic and I will continue to find new adventures, but the mind that churned the UK over the last three weeks, looking for ways to piece it together in this written space, will now turn back to the classroom, the students with whom I engage everyday. My blog posts will turn back to the mundane and domestic–to school stuff and philosophy and yoga and race training and everyday life. The memories, preserved here in these words and in Nic’s amazing photography, will be catalogued here and in my mind, but my imagination will run wild in a slightly different direction for a while, still trying to piece it all together one day, one post at a time.
Memories that are so vivid today–being swarmed by minges at the Fairy Pools, nearly being blown off the mountain over Edinburgh, a late night Roti with Gary and Ash–are all so vivid now, but as time passes they will become a bit more shadowy. Even in re-reading, I recognize all the small details that were left on the cutting room floor, moments not caught in picture or writing–like the old man dancing on the street at Camden market, conversations over drinks at the Robbie Burns pub (“I hear all people from Texas are crazy…but good crazy”) or Nic’s proclivity for making people laugh on the Underground (“But really, thanks again for that laugh.”). At the same time, the seeds that found root in our journey will continue to blossom over time–like improving my repertoire of Scottish folk songs from 0 to 2 (so maybe I can play along next time, though Nic will surely punch me if I pursue my dream of writing one about the Jalpeno Pasta at Pizza Paradise), or learning how to turn around blog posts, not letting them sit in the draft folder unfinished. Hopefully, these fruits continue to bloom.
It would be easy to lament this change and worry that soon these beautiful days will grow dusty on the shelf in their disuse, but doing so would undermine the gratitude I feel for having this experience. For the sacrifices we both made to make it happen. For the opportunity to travel. For Gary and Ashely’s warm hospitality, their kindness, their love, their laughter, their honest conversation in quiet moments. For having the great fortune of landing serendipitously in Chelsea’s flat. For people along the way (the old man at the castle, Alex from Aberdeen via Latvia, the Dutch teachers) who gave us memorable community in our travels.
Gratitude is often easier to cultivate in extraordinary situations. In travel (as Blanche du Bois once noted) “the kindness of strangers” becomes an amazing gift. You put yourself into the strange and unfamiliar and you often prove that not only can you do amazing things, but that other people are capable of amazing acts of kindness. large and small. One of the political speeches I heard at the RNC before I left characterized the world as a dark and scary place, and sometimes in our country we often view the rest of the world with suspicion. Fortunately in the pocket of the world we just traveled, that turned out not to be so. People were kind and conversant everywhere we went. But now as we slide back into the familiar, the known, it becomes easier to take for granted our everyday opportunities, our potential, and also the small contributions people make in our lives both large and small.
It’s inevitable, I guess, to see your own culture through the lens of the one you just left. And the comparison goes much closer to the skin than which side of the road is correct or the difference between trousers and pants and underwear. Our roads are wider and we drive more. We don’t have 70 degree summer days. We don’t have screeching fox roaming our neighborhoods at night. We don’t have venison or cider as readily available. We do have free refills on soda in most place and thunderstorms, as well as fairly accessible public restrooms. Not everyone has to be like us, and we surely don’t have to be like everyone else, but seeing how it’s done differently can both give you gratitude for what you do have and give you a reality check for what you could really do without.
Hopefully, that drama will play out on another stage for us soon. I remember the day we walked into Blackwell’s in Edinburgh and thought of all the books I had yet to read. Traveling, it seems, is having the same effect. Taking one trip fills me with wonder and happiness, but it also makes me aware of all the many glories on this Earth left for me to explore. Perhaps temporarily satisfied, the wanderlust, the daydreams of seeing things, observing customs, and meeting people I’ve never seen before will still hold sway in my mind. Where next? Belize? Prague? Bali? Kilimanjaro? I guess we’ll see what happens when our paths take us there.