This stretch of hours has provided an opportunity for much needed slowness. Not quite a pause, but still it’s a space where I can move with a rare sense of luxury. Here I feel protected by generous timelines with no wickets of scrutiny that demand my body contorts in such a way that keeps my synapses firing excessively until I’m deposited home come the end of each day. Exhale.
And even this morning as I find carting around a freshly repacked suitcase—this time headed back to North Africa—I feel as though I am gaining some much-needed repose. There are so many obligations swirling about London that this transitory sensation, this limbo, is always a most welcome experience. My good friend in Scotland—the Italian one with a beautiful mind and extrasensory intelligence classifies this particular experience as limbo. As a comrade in the army of global introverts, she relishes the opportunity to accept the imposed holding patterns that comprise travel. This is because it allows, as some sort of happy consequence, for the brain to do nothing but unwind a bit. For me I find that as an adult, it presents a rare opportunity for creativity to take hold until I must rejoin the in motion world of the Transportation Olympics.
Maybe while living in this stretch of suspension, some thought will be shaken free. Or maybe I’ll relish the time to dip into more than just a 500-word magazine article (and then again, maybe the actual reading of said article beyond the headline will be the luxury). Or perhaps while waiting I’ll be allowed to simply stare out the window. Out at nothing at all. For me on this morning, I am barely examining the dissipating London fog as daybreak clears. There is the moving to and fro of aircraft tails. Thai Airways, Air Canada, South African. Even a British Airways Concorde (actually it’s the one on static display).
Today this Heathrow moment has conjured a scrap of memory that should have been lost in the folds of childhood. It was the mid-1980s. I was sitting on the living room floor and half-watching the news with my mother. There was a story necessitating footage of the runways at Logan Airport, and while watching we suddenly caught the tail of a Republic Airlines aircraft as it darted back and forth through the camera shot. The tail, depicting two profiles of geese in flight (one was apparently named Herman) were cast frozen across the backdrop of what might have been an artistic sun. With many products bearing this trademark around our house, I thought nothing of watching this slice of New England familiarity. My mother, she got a kick out of seeing her husband’s company enjoy some free promotion, courtesy of WBZ news or whatever else we were watching.
I have no idea if my father was out flying one of those aircraft on that day, and for all intents and purposes this memory should not have stuck around to find me in adulthood. But for whatever reason, the scene has remained. Me as a little girl sitting contentedly on the cozy medium pile of our brown living room carpet (my mom rightly chose brown because it would hide the dirt of five kids). I spent many days either seated or laying on that living room floor. In winter, I’d move as close to the hearth of the fireplace as I could get. The plastic on the feet of my sleeper growing almost too warm to even touch. Other times, my back would be propped against the base of the couch because it was already stuffed to capacity by my mother and siblings. My father was sometimes reclined in the chimney-colored recliner, perhaps smoking a Marlboro Red or Winston cigarette.
I think now about the places where I get to install myself while in limbo: the airport lounge chairs, the inhospitable corrals that masquerade as departure gates (even now I still plant myself on the floor). Standing out on the tarmac just in front of the plane as our collection of humanity patiently waits while clutching boarding passes and gazing at the equipment’s body and tail art.These moments produce the kind of free-flowing thoughts and memories that I love to be united with whenever I find myself out on the road. They mean nothing at all in terms of feeding what my superiors will evaluate in terms of life proficiency, but at the same time they hold incredible personal value. They are the sometimes-elusive components that can be brought back and held close. To remind you of what exists beyond the life that is waiting once you get to wherever it is that you are heading on any particular day.
And just like today, I know that the rest of the working world, with all of its expectation and chaotic rhythm will pick back up again once I get through the immigration line. The arrivals hall will be a mess. There will be misunderstandings which will necessitate more waiting, and I’ll install myself in the only empty seat that I can find in the airport’s only café. There will be a stray cat seated just nearby, under a chair and just beyond someone’s luggage. No one will care and the pace will continue on, with or without my fleeting thoughts. Still, I’m grateful for these moments where I can duck my head out for just a little bit. Find an opportunity to power down and then, if only for a few hours, find a bit of myself that often gets lost in the present-day hum of adulthood. Maybe this is why I travel so much.