Amsterdam in front of the Van Gogh museum (our first BIG trip together and what prompted me to say “Wanna move in?”)
I recently took a trip to Charlotte, North Carolina. It fit our current travel criteria:
- neither Best Friend nor I had ever been
- Southwest flies there (we would only fly Southwest if we could; crossing fingers they keep expanding!)
- in the Winter months, somewhere warmer than Chicago, which basically leaves out Antartica
- that’s about it — we’re pretty easy…
Sidenote: if you love craftsman houses, Charlotte appears to be the Craftsman Mecca. I had no idea! It felt like kismet when we were meandering from the airport into town and randomly ended up on Asheville Street — Asheville, NC being where Best Friend proposed — staring at craftsmans, my most favoritest type of house (I blame Chip and Jojo), right across from a burger and milkshake establishment, my most favoritest type of establishment.
It was a lovely, relaxing quick getaway.
Until the flight home.
Chicago’s first big snowstorm of the season decided to make its appearance while we were galavanting in the land that invented the orange construction cone (thank you exhibit at the Levine Museum of the New South) and continued its stern notice that winter had arrived as we returned home. Our flight attendant said if we had been any other city but Chicago, Denver, New York, we wouldn’t have made it out of Charlotte but “Y’all know how to deal with snow.” She also said, “We almost had to land in Louisville.” Instead, we circled above Midway for about 30 minutes as they cleared the runways. Funny how the alternatives can make you grateful for shitty situations. Perspective lesson #1.
Perspective lesson #2 came as we hit turbulence. The kind of turbulence when you white-knuckle the armrests, question why you chose to leave the house let alone get in a machine that takes you off the ground to unnatural heights, and confess all your sins, apologize for all your misdoings, and promise to give to Greenpeace next time they
accost approach you.
I am used to a few dips. A few stomach drops. But then you’re supposed to be done and supposed to go back to as you were. That’s how it works.
That’s not how it worked.
Dip. Dip. Turn. Dip. Drop. Drop. Turn. Drop. I squeezed Best Friend’s hand. Closed my eyes. Stupid, that’s worse. Popped open my eyes and frantically searched for the flight attendant to see if I could read Impending Death on her face. Drop. Held my breath. Apologized for stealing a Barbie from the Evanston Osco when I was nine. Promised to stop drinking pop. Dip. Dip. Drop.
As we exceeded the appropriate amount of time for turbulence and were still in the thick of it, in an effort to calm myself, I inhaled deeply, exhaled slowly, re-closed my eyes, and thought, “What if I actually do die?”
What will it feel like?
What will be my last thought?
Who’ll miss me?
Will Best Friend be scared?
How can I make sure Best Friend doesn’t hurt?
Will it matter?
I thought of a friend I had in college whose family would always travel together when going on vacation. Rather than take a flight from Boston and meet them at their destination, she would drive 2+ hours home to Connecticut to get on the same plane as Mom, Dad, and siblings. In case the worst happened and there was a crash, they wanted to die together.
At the time, I thought, “Aw, sweet. And morbid. And a bit much.” But as we dipped and dropped, I found myself eternally grateful Best Friend was beside me. If I’m scared or in pain, there is no one I’d rather have holding my hand. Additionally, I don’t want him to experience and survive my death, and I cannot imagine life without him and do not want to experience and survive his death. If either of us are going to leave this world, I want to leave side by side.
My thoughts jumped to my lived life — images of my thirty-eight years flipped and clicked on my eyelids as if on a projector reel set up by a 1970s middle-school substitute teacher.
My springy afro hair, handmade clothes, and huge tooth gap of childhood. The birthday where we lip-synced to Tiffany’s I think we’re alone now in front of a green-sceen and left with a VHS music video of ourselves. Watching Sisters every Saturday night at my standing babysitting gig, fascinated by women named Frankie, Georgie, Teddy, and Alex. A TJ Maxx dressing room attendant asking if I wore deodorant. Calling B96 to request Pump Up the Jam and hearing myself on the radio. Holding a huge fake check from Walgreens on TV, awkwardly smiling in my letterman jacket as I accepted the Extra Effort Award for my Cabrini-Green volunteerism. Meeting a weird guy through an AOL chat room. Ok, two weird guys through an AOL chat room. Lying to Mom about what I was doing in those AOL chat rooms. Packing to move to Kingston, Jamaica for a year-long life-leap that never manifested. My first adult purchase, a putty green couch from Affordable Portables. Incessant “You tall!” and “You Puerto Rican or something?” observations and inquiries from students at schools I managed. Driving past what had been a major source of inspiration for becoming an English/Sociology major, the two-mile stretch of Robert Taylor Homes, but that now showed no evidence that 27,000 people had once lived there. The tall and quiet jeep-driving boy from guitar class who was obviously the one, who ghosted, broke my heart, and turned out not to be the one. Flipping through Kennedy family photos and documents in the private Kennedy Collection at JFK Library in Boston to add to our Sargent Shriver documentary. After five years, paying the last monthly $239.49 check to Ford for my car. Packing the “Good luck!” blue and white vase’d bamboo plant someone had gifted me in a box after I got fired. Practicing my TEDx talk, pacing my bedroom, waving my hands, trying to remember the words on my paper, trying to look natural, trying to emulate Brene. Eating mole like soup because I didn’t know that mole was a sauce meant to be put on something. Volunteering to get bumped from a flight from Maine home, which included a $300 cab ride to Boston to my new flight, so I could collect a $900 travel credit, and then using said credit to fly first-class to Mexico on a self-indulgent Party of One trip. Mom and I accidentally eating Christmas dinner meant for the homeless. Watching my host nuns in Rwanda get tipsy on banana beer they had brewed. Making awkward eye-contact with the UPS guy as I finished peeing, not quickly enough kicking the bathroom door shut. Best Friend holding my hand, walking step by agonizingly slow step, singing along with me “This is just a step, just a simple step” as I cried after climbing up an Ireland mountain, overcome with and almost paralyzed by fear of falling to my death, not wanting to climb down said Ireland mountain.
The good, the bad.
The puff my chest out with pride, the shrink into a corner with shame.
The trivial, the monumental.
As we dipped and dropped, leveled out only to dip and drop again, as I thought about dying, panic surprisingly melted into peace.
I’ve made mistakes. I’ve done dumb things. I’ve been wrong. I wish I could change A, I wish I could change B. But overall, big picture, I have no regret.
Since college, where I learned to embrace my differences and my flaws, where I discovered, began to value, and finally turned up the volume of my voice, I’ve been an active participant in my life, taking charge, making leaps, taking risks, making choices. You may say many things about me but complacent, silent, passive, boring, stagnant, and invisible are not descriptors you would use to describe me. The worst insults you could throw my way would be if you called me a navel-gazer, complainer, negative nellie, debbie downer, sit on the sidelines sally, waste of a life.
I much prefer a life with ups and downs and twists and turns than a life of straight lines.
While there is still much I want to do and accomplish, I hope there will always be much I want to do and accomplish. The finish line moves further away as I inch closer to it. The To Do List grows longer as I cross off item after item. I hope I never cross the finish line or tame the To Do List. I hope I always want more.
I’ve had more, my life has been filled with more, and it’s delicious. To strive for and to consume.
I wish I had…
None of that was a part of my deep breath, closed eyed panicked then peaceful thoughts on the flight from Charlotte to Chicago. While I certainly didn’t want to die, I was ok with dying.
The realization that I could die without regret, joyful, grateful, and fulfilled, provided me with a comforting contentedness. If this is my time to say goodbye, I can say a regret-free goodbye. And that is the ultimate gift I can give myself.
All that said, I’m very very glad I’m still here. That book still needs to be written, Best Friend has yet to take yoga with me, “Subaru Owner” still needs to be added to my list of monikers, I wanna fit my size 10 pants again, New Zealand still needs to be explored…
If it was your time to say goodbye, would it be a regretful goodbye or a peaceful goodbye? Morbid to consider. Yet living an “I should’ve” life feels pretty morbid too, no?
If you’re interested in traveling well and often even though you’re not Richy Rich, Best Friend and I are teaching on online class “Life of Yes Travel: Minimize Expense, Maximize Experience”.