Monday, October 31, 2005

in a strange land

Insights are endless and thoughts are exploding,
dear God, I'm so lonesome and I don't know why.

I sometimes (often?) wake with a lyric in my mind that seems to come out of nowhere. Usually it doesn’t come out of nowhere, because there is a connection to something, but the connection doesn’t always fit my mood, or frame of mind. Often I'm given the lyric before I realize that it will help me when I discover what my frame of mind is, or that I need it to face something that is not yet.
This morning’s frame of mind was one of contemplation of a reluctant return to normalcy, the abandonment of which I so eagerly embraced as Al and I boarded the plane to Dallas on Friday, U2 tics in hand. Though reluctant to return, I began to think about the morning traffic to the airport in a strange and sprawling city, the return of the rental car, the hopping shuttles to terminals, the check-in, security, etc., and quietly wished I could just blink my eyes like J.R.’s bottled companion used to do before he moved to Dallas, and find myself back at home.
As it turns out, everything I was responsible for this morning went down without a hitch. I got us to the airport, returned the car, secured our boarding passes, checked our bag, strode through security, secured a cup of Sumatra and relaxed to await our flight. But no sooner had we reached the shelter of the terminal, than a mighty storm attacked D/FW, and relentlessly pummeled the area until they had to close the airport for a while. First the flight was delayed by 50 minutes, then an hour, then… The gate was changed 5 times before they actually changed the terminal so that we had to hurry onto the skylink train to find the other terminal, just in time to wait yet another hour to board. All the while, this morning’s lyric is ringing in my head, and becoming more fully formed throughout the day as more lines find their way from the recesses of my memory.
We did finally board at 3:00pm, 4 hours after our plane was to have taken off, and 30 minutes after we were to have landed in Charlotte. By now, we’re all exhausted, and ready to relax on the plane for the ride home. But once we boarded, we learned that since the whole airport had been closed, the fuelers were backed up and we’d have to wait to be fueled. Once fueled, we had to wait some time for a push back, and once pushed back, we taxied out to wait in a four-lane, mile-long line of planes waiting to take off. Though the weather had left the area, it had gone ahead to where we were heading, and all the planes would have to be spaced so as to follow the few routes open through the storms. So, we waited 2 and a half hours on the tarmac to actually take off.
Originally thinking we’d be home by 4:00pm, we had no plans for the care of the kids for the evening and actually had some evening responsibilities of our own. So Allison worked frantically to contact friends to help us with our kids as they came home from school, and prepared to survive the evening. All from a thousand miles away. I am now well aware that when I go to Texas, dreadful things happen upon the return.
The lyric played loudly in my head, “I can’t get back home again.”
As we sat on the plane on the tarmac, my brother called to tell me that he’d just left the hospital and that my uncle Bill was not expected to make it through the day. My heart sank, as I sat totally captive and helpless, a stranger in a strange land, if you’ll pardon the serious reference. Unable to care for my children, alone, a thousands miles away, unable to comfort my people a thousand different miles away. Suddenly I no longer knew where home was, only that I was not there.
Eventually, by predetermined plans, we arrived in Charlotte, and made our way toward Columbia. I talked to Jack one last time before he retired, and Al and I stopped at Waffle House for the first food since a muffin 13 hours ago. Allison reminisced that the first time she’d eaten at Waffle House was 17 years ago as we made our way from Pennsylvania toward Columbia. “Can you believe it’s been 17 years?” That’s nearly as long as either of us has lived in one place. Allison said that it’s beginning to feel like home. I said, “until someone is dying.” There was a tremendous confusion of place.
At that moment, I knew that I would not make it home tonight.