Tuesday, June 02, 2015
The Voyage, The Journey, The Quest
How do I start? Where do we begin?
ze’teyn amet bohala, ze’teyn amet befeet,
ena, iziga neyn…
nine years later, nine years before,
and, here i am…
With my bags packed, I didn’t smoke one last cigarette. One a day, sitting on my front steps in the speckled, late afternoon sunlight, or sometimes at dusk while the birds chirped supper, or sometimes late, late at night when it was very quiet except for the occasional car whooooshing past and the hushed conversation of myself and M at my side and the hum of the porch light overhead. Sometimes with a cup of tea, sometimes with a teacup of wine, sometimes M with fancy rum. Sometimes with a book of poems, and others just listening to the leaves and watching the people. In this way, spring flowered and turned to summer, and I made it through the most difficult exam period I have ever known.
And somehow I managed to pack my bags and gather all necessary readings and get all necessary vaccinations and make all necessary arrangments, and then… rather than sit for a moment with one last smoke before going --- “Let’s just go,” I said.
Sometimes I wonder who I have become. I have heard this can happen.
Who is this anxious traveler? She mails a copy of her passport to her parents in California, and leaves another with her flatmates in Cambridge. She actually arrives three hours early at the airport for international travels. In the car, in traffic on the way there, her face is pasted with worry while her mind reels over what she may have forgotten, and M’s sailor songs sing of beloveds journeying from the eastern seaboard in three female voices.
When I arrived at the airport, I found that the first leg of my journey hardly counted as international travel. Halifax is less than an hour’s flight away. I was pointed away from the security check point at the small boarding area, a room with nothing more than a few rows of seats, a bathroom and a water fountain, to the food court to wait for other flights to first depart to Montreal and Toronto before my own. The “Vermont Cheddar Burger” I had while waiting was memorable… I knew I should have gone for the fish and chips.
Before departing for the airport, I proudly displayed my new fanny pack and money belts to anyone who was home. Alarmed to be accosted with nylon and spandex on their way to the bathroom or downstairs to the kitchen, they were decidedly uninterested and unimpressed. M laughed, though, loud and short --- “Ha! She’s a nerdy traveler!”
She’s a nerdy traveler. Howww…? When did…? Hmm….
Returning to the boarding area, the woman working the security check-point – a short and stout older woman with a Boston accent, and blue highlights streaking through her ponytail of long, brown hair – smiles in greeting and asks how the food court was. The nerdy traveler lets out a laugh and says --- “Fine.” Then she takes off her fanny pack, her clogs; she removes her laptop from her bag; her water bottle is empty, and she’s already anxious to fill it at the fountain in the boarding area. She steps into the new security detector with doors that revolve and whoosh around you, her hands raised in the Don’t shoot! gesture. Stepping out on the other side, the woman begins to pat her down according to the image of the body scan produced by the strange security machine. And then ---
The woman gasps, sharp, her smile gone. While patting her down, she feels, around her waist, something clasped there, under her clothing. It’s a quick moment, brief, but her face is distinctly drawn with concern, her eyes bright with the movement of a mind under fear ---
“What’s that?” She asks, breathily.
I touch my hands to my waist --- “A money belt,” I reply.
“Oh,” she exhales, “take it off, and put it through.” So I do.
The Halifax airport is deserted at midnight. A few security guards roam around in military drab, boots, and bullet proof vests. Four or five people too many are on shift at the security check-point. When I ask if I’ll need to take off my money belt, a lanky young man just drowsily waves me through.
On the plane to London I sit next to a beautiful Iranian woman. While we talk during the flight, she tells me of her life in Halifax with her husband and her son, and I contemplate the surgical tautness of her face.
I will sleep on the plane. Later my seatmate and I will part ways while disembarking. She will journey on to Frankfurt before landing in Tehran. I will pass eleven hours in Heathrow.
And then, after a day spent walking laps around the terminal in a dreamy stupor, passing the same glassy storefronts of high-end designers; sleeping in a deserted corner of the terminal, near the prayer room, my body curled around arm rests; eating while reading in the glass-tiled sunlight of a tall wall of windows while men with cameras shoot photos of the planes resting and taking off outside; and finally hiking for fifteen minutes down escalators and up escalators and through tunnels of moving walkways, British signage directing travelers to walk in one direction; I find myself in a small sea of black and brown faces.
The last leg of a long journey begins here.
And it’s a good place to be.
You who are accustomed to traveling abroad among the
trading towns of the realms of rebirth,
grasp tightly this gem that is the Awakening Mind.
It is precious, assayed by those of immeasurable expertise,
the unique caravan-leaders of the world.
(Śāntideva : Bodhicaryāvatāra : v. 1.11)