Destination Wonderland

I never get good rest the night before I have to fly, and last night provided the added component of a dreamy preview of my coming travel day. Now I’d be lying if I said that most of my dreams didn’t revolve around discombobulated travel stress—indeed just a few days ago I dreamt that I disembarked an aircraft and suddenly wondered where my luggage was. Did I leave it in the overhead bin? Did I check one in at all? I had absolutely no idea; all I knew was that I’d need a fresh change of clothes in the very near future.

In this new sequence, I found myself lounging blissfully in the airport lounge when suddenly I realized that my flight was leaving— and I was nowhere near the designated gate. Shannon had been redesigned and was now impressively difficult to navigate. I found myself rushing so hard that I hadn’t even time to check my watch or the monitors in order to figure out which gate was actually mine. Instead my cardiovascular system started to cash out and the adrenaline levels peaked as I sensed the boarding window closing. I knew that no smashing of Airport Olympic records would ensure that I’d make it to the gate in time.

But then I rounded a corner and saw ‘Final Boarding’ on a screen with an Aer Lingus logo. I flashed my boarding pass to the gate agent and he allowed me on board. As I sat in the aircraft and tried to catch my breath, this was when I realized that I had boarded a flight to Birmingham. Birmingham? I’m not even sure where Birmingham is! But time was up and I had to decide right away: was I going to say something and remove myself from flight already in the final stages of departure— or would I just sit tight and see what was next once we’d arrived?

I spent a good chunk of my Christmas holiday among friends over in the west of Ireland. Over many drinks and meals, we chatted frequently about future prospects—not just my own, but also the plans of other folks who were gathered around various holiday tables. Future billets for officers getting promoted, massive city projects entrusted to a Galway community leader, medical appointments lined up to assess chronic pain, teenagers with sights trained on college—it seemed as though everyone had an equal amount of expectation and excitement in their voices. I suppose that I did as well.

And then after so much drink and chat I awoke on St. Stephen’s Day feeling desiccated and also jarred from my Shannon Airport dream. My suitcase was still open and messy on the floor near the couch where I was sleeping. Just out the window, the 9am sun painted life into The Burren’s facade of Irish braille. Beyond the driveway, the latticework of trees in the mist began to look more magical than the Christmas tree sitting just beyond my feet. I rolled out of bed and snapped on some running clothes. I needed to go outdoors and circulate the blood as well as to take in some of the world’s most glorious landscape while I still had it.

With no suitcase to pull or departure gate to seek, it was easy going through the partially saturated terrain. As my eyes watched the light change on the limestone hills, my brain picked lightly at the previous night’s dream. I had no doubt that in a few hours I’d be boarding the correct flight back to London, but at the same time I recognized that there are many unknowns and variables that we can neither foresee nor control. Things are always coming along that serve to send us into momentary panic, and it leaves you wondering exactly how you will move forward. Would I have taken that plane to Birmingham, or would I have interrupted the flight in order to return to the gate?

These frenzied airport scenarios that my subconscious puts myself through are all just variations on the same theme. I may not have been terribly lucid as I was awake and running, —but I did manage to interpret the panic felt in going off script with a larger uncertainty that comes with life planning. We all imagine that we have a fair idea of where we are going—even if we don’t yet have all of the details. But at the same time, we have to prepare ourselves for the eventuality that crazy shit is going to jump out in front of us. Plans will go off track and life might ultimately dump us in someplace completely new.

I’m writing this all out as I sit on EI 386—my designated Aer Lingus flight back to Heathrow. Yes, I ultimately made it to my gate and boarded the correct flight (if anything, the threat of reliving my dream kept my eye on the clock). But even if I did somehow miss my flight or get deposited somewhere else in England, I’m sure I would have found my way back home. A train ticket to London or a lift from Tommy Shelby would have been somehow arranged. And maybe along the way I’d have gained a story fit for next year’s Christmas table. Maybe there would have been a shift in my life’s trajectory. You can never know.

For now, I’m still feeling a bit hungover and also somewhat sore from the run. In both cases, the prices are very small ones to pay for what I got. But since I am older and accordingly a little less flexible, I’ll also be grateful for an uneventful transit back home to ensure that my life at least for now will carry on as predicted. Lord knows it is interesting enough already. I’ll save a round of intrigue for the next time I get to venture out the door.