The airport was crowded with people – some going to Turkey, some to Greece and others, like me, were heading back to Canada. I slipped uneasily back and forth, and in and out of the line not sure where I was supposed to que for my trip home. My tired, aching body cried out for a warm place to rest and read the books I had bought in the airport Relay store. I clutched the Bruce Springsteen auto biography in one hand, anxious to delve into it, while balancing my two suitcases, carry on bag and purse in the other. Hungry, angry, lonely and tired – HALT, they call it in 12-step circles. I was kind of feeling the need to do just that. Another hour and a half and I would board the plane taking me from London to Montreal, then Toronto and finally to Winnipeg.
Being in this seemingly never ending line up of travellers, I found myself reflecting back on the trip that started with the ear worm of a tune - “Leaving on a Jet Plane” which was now morphing into “The Long and Winding Road” six weeks later. From anticipation of leaving home to anticipation of the return.
And a long and winding road it had certainly been. It started on the rainy vistas of Vancouver Island, to the quaint and contemporary landscapes of both urban and rural Quebec, which then carried me to the green fields and bustling metropolises of the UK and France. And, now, winding me back to the flat lands of Manitoba.
I remembered all of the walking, the cab rides – the “planes trains and automobiles” that carried me me from one locale to another. I thought about the people that so kindly showed me the ways whenever I turned up helpless and with silly questions about where I was and how to get where I was going. The many Quebecers who tolerated my mantra, ‘Je suis désolé mais je ne parle pas français’ and helped me circle back to my intended destination. There was the cop in central London who didn’t know where the London Bridge was but who looked it up for me on his google maps. We laughed because unbeknownst to either of us we could see it clearly about a block away from where we were standing. I thanked the officer – a youngish man in his 30’s – and told how much the English and Londoners especially were miscast as reserved or unfriendly. “This is not at all what I’ve experienced”. I said. “Oh – I don’t know – I can count at least ten who are not so nice”, as he replied, smiling back at me.
I shifted from one foot to the other, uncomfortable with the long wait in this line. My shoulder was beginning to sting from the weight of the loaded bag slung over it. My feet were aching. As I stood there, I drifted to thoughts about Paris – the city of light. I remembered the woman in the Paris Guard Station who approached my niece and I when she saw our confused attempts at navigation. She, with her scooter in hand, offered to take us to the train to get to Colombes where we would be staying. We followed behind her finding out along the way that she had a soft spot for English speakers. It turned out that she had gone to boarding school in England and had fond memories of her three years there. She was sympathetic to us English speaking folk but only to a point.
“All we ask is that people try to speak a little bit in French. Too many barge up demanding we speak English – that is kind of upsetting”, she smiled also acknowledging that Parisians could get a little uptight, “We’re getting better though” she grinned this time. I nodded remembering my last visit to Paris. This time I promised myself to speak the best I could in French, even if turned out fumbling or incoherent. The kind woman got us to our train and wished us well. An angel of mercy to confused English speaking tourists, I thought
My mind traveled forward to the present, momentarily, as the line of people inched slowly ahead. The young couple in front of me struggled with bags and a babe in arms as they checked their bag for passports and tickets. I sympathized briefly and but quickly found myself drifting back to the day I fell down on busy Kilburn St in London. I had left my nieces apartment early that day rushing to get a train that would eventually connect me to an Airbnb in Manchester. As I rushed out the door that morning with a suitcase on wheels and an extra carry bag, I didn’t think about how speeding down the street in heels could be my undoing. When the fall came, it was a hard one. My glasses and suitcase went flying as did my dignity when unceremoniously I hit the pavement. There was a mind rush of disbelief and then the voices: “Are you okay ma’am?” “Let me help you up”. I stood up with a person, one woman and a man, on each side of me helping me to my feet. “Thank you so very much”, I said as I dusted myself off, checked quickly for blood or bruises and reset myself in the direction of the train station. Unsteady but determined, I made my way with a little more caution, mentally grateful for my rescuers.
Oh and then there there was the cab driver, later that afternoon, who could not find the address that I needed to get to. It was Aylesbury and I had to get to a resource centre six miles outside of town. I decided to take a cab because buses didn’t run often and I was hauling luggage to my appointment at the UK Embroidery Guild where I was scheduled to see some Indigenous Canadian embroidery. The driver, originally from Bulgaria was a larger set man with dark hair, bushy mustache, a big hearted laugh and a love of talking. He told me how he was adjusting to England raising his children and how following his religious faith was his core guide in life. “I believe in love and God – not politics”, he said emphatically on the topic of Trump and as we made our way down the curving streets on the way out of Aylesbury.
Our first stop was at a long one story building situated off the road along a winding driveway. I smiled getting ready to pay but as I looked up saw a sign for a personal care home. Are you sure this is the place, I asked curiously. “Hmmmm”, I think so”, he replied. However, after a minute or two of double checking the address and this location we both concluded that this was not my destination. Off we went, now as it turned out, to an air force base. This didn’t seem right either, we both agreed. Neither did the security guard at the gate as he re-directed us back to the main road.
An hour of driving, searching, winding, asking and double checking finally took us to the right place – smack dab next door to our original stop at the nursing home. As I left the cab, in a flurry to get to my appointment, I left without a receipt. This made me more than a little anxious when I realized that I had no idea about the final tab. I had given the driver my credit card information at the beginning of the ride and I could end up with a big price to pay for this misadventure. It was more than a small relief, but a bigger surprise, when days later I found out that this driver didn’t charge me at all for the trip. Oh the kindness of strangers – much more generous than I could have imagined.
I lifted my head once more to see where I was in the line and was pleased to see that I was almost at the air line check-in desk. I would go through security and then hurry to the gate for departure. Suddenly, but not entirely unexpectedly, my mood shifted from impatience at waiting to melancholy at leaving. My journey was entering the final phase - the last chapter – and now I wasn’t so sure I wanted to leave – not just yet anyway. Strangers had rescued and be-friended me more times than I could have predicted on the outset.
A woman tapped me on the shoulder – a cue to move along. I picked up my bags, dragged my suitcases behind me and clutched the book that would give me a reprieve from mulling on my thoughts for too long. I looked down at my feet to get my bearings and then took a deep breath. I walked past the lines and onward to the gate.
The day started early to the tune of "leaving on a jet plane"... an ear worm that I couldn't shake. It wasn't a long car ride - about one half of an hour on the perimeter toward the Winnipeg airport. I was tired but anticipating a rest on the two hour flight from Winnipeg to Edmonton. I found out fairly late that I would not have to leave the plane but could sit it out while others disembarked and went on to Kelowna or Vancouver. For that, I was grateful. No necessary stops and starts - as close to a direct flight as one could expect on a bargain basement air line where anything other than the seat was al a carte.
I had picked a window seat with the hope that I could do the ostrich thing and pretend that I didn't have neighbors in the middle and aisle seats. I did not want to touch shoulders or talk unless it was absolutely unavoidable.
The couple, when they sat down beside me, were unobtrusive. She took out her knitting and he pulled out a lap top. The woman was tall, slight build with long grey hair pulled back with a clip. Quiet elegance; 1970's, I was thinking . I noticed her long fingers and the ease with which she worked the needles as she stitched. He, on the other hand, had a crazy head of longish white hair and a mustache that matched. From the corner of my eye I could see his hand moving along her leg - she seemed not to notice and carried on with her needle work. He moved his hand along her leg again and turned to her smiling an easy smile - familiar.
She turned to me as he got up to go to the washroom and asked if I was going to Vancouver. No, I told her, this is a trip to Victoria and then to Port Alberni to see family. Me, of course, never able to contain details or refrain from a story, told her about my upcoming 6 weeks of research. We chatted a bit until he came back and sat down. The woman told the man about my trip - he turned to me smiling, intrigued. An artist he asked - I am a scientist he told me. An evolutionary biologist studying or specializing in those little bugs - "you know no-seeums?". "Oh yes. I hate those with a passion", I said.
And so the conversation began. "We are people of faith", he told me. She nodded, looking down at her knitting and smiled. But, he quickly added, not fundamentalists. "I am an evolutionist, after all".
"We have been married 43 years", He said smiling, touching her arm affectionately. She nodded, looking down at her knitting. "We met when I was 16 and he was 19", she said. "We got married three years later and have been together since".
Art and she, Annette, carry their instruments - a flute(hers) and a guitar (his) with them whenever they travel. He is a scientist and she is a neo-natal nurse who travels to Guatemala to work along side Mayan woman to help teach safe birthing - a art lost through war and colonization. They have two adult sons; one adopted. Art speaks proudly about Annette's project in Guatemala. He is amazed at how she has been able to work with people instead of around them. He shares stories of his time in Bolivia He talks about the community and the gift of creation the elders shared with him. through story and art. He says he felt blessed to share in the telling.
We talk about Jesus and fundamentalism. They have found a place in the Catholic community they tell me. They don't get how some people think Jesus would oppose Muslims, gays or the so -called homeless. "I always ask people", Art says, "have you ever had coffee with someone who is gay, Muslim or anyone else you think is different?". He looks at me with head cocked slightly to the side and an amused grin as if I should respond.
We talk about spirituality and the metaphor of the wheel with many spikes/paths. Annette talks to me about birthing. I share some of the story of the birth of my first daughter. She tells me that in Guatemala ,many women die with the same condition that I had at the time I was delivering. In another time and place, I would have hemorrhaged to death, she says. Birthing sharing circles in the community where she works always bring her to tears she admits. I get that this is sacred talk.
Annette keeps on knitting. we discuss embroidery and clay. Annette says that she has been working with clay for years, some hand building and sometimes on the wheel. We smile at each other, seeming to recognize ourselves as kindred spirits - as per Anne of Green Gables.
I can feel my ears popping as the plane starts the descent toward Edmonton. It is getting harder to hear as Art shares "another story". He talks about primates as us - he measures our advances not with technology but with humanity. They tell me about their niece - her and he husband adopting twins. The trial and tribulations. I try to hang on to what they are saying but my ears won't let me. The cabin pressure has taken over.
The plane lands with the usual bump and thud. I hold onto the back of the seat in front of me. Art, Annette and I look at one another smiling. We marvel at the loss of two hours. Art says he was going to finish a bibliography but hat will have to wait now. Annette puts her knitting into her bag - I notice for the first time - the pattern which looks decidedly Guatemalan.
The three of us delight in our meeting. "So glad to have met you", says Art. "Do you have a card?". "No ", I say. He hands me his. Let us stay in touch we all agree. What a lovely meeting. I tell them how much I admire them and their 46 years together. "What a lovely couple you are", I say.
As they get up to leave, I go back to my magazine - feeling the pull of privacy. They speak Spanish to one another as they get up to leave. We say our goodbyes again. I breath a sigh getting myself ready for a quiet time on the next leg of the ride.
A few minutes later, as the next round of passengers start to embark, I notice a white haired woman move toward my group of seats. She takes the seat next to me. An elderly but substantial man sits down next to her. From the corner of my eye, I see him stroke her leg. She hold his hand and the plane starts for take off.
Stay tuned for posts about my upcoming research trip which will start on Vancouver Island and then moves to the Province of Quebec, The UK and then Paris France. I will keep this post and my readers on the the day to day news and the discoveries I am sure to be making.