“We may ask of our destinations, ‘Help me to feel more generous, less afraid, always curious. Put a gap between me and my confusion; the whole of the Atlantic between me and my shame.’ Travel agents would be wiser to ask us what we hope to change about our lives rather than simply where we wish to go.”
-Alain de Botton, A Week at the Airport–
I must have slumbered, unattractively and fitfully, for the plane windows were open and it was very very bright in the sky. My glasses had fallen, my head scrunched under an arm rest, legs tightly angled and restrained from the aisle by the arm rest just one seat away. And below, there were moments of Ireland.
I finished the book, thinking de Botton’s observations might make the arrival more profound. But Rick Hanson’s Just One Thing helped me more. “Find beauty, take in the good, be compassionately for yourself. Breathe out long and the intentions (little by little) will seep out around you” (a paraphrase). As we circled London, having skewed our arrival from delay, the clouds thickened and soon we were scuttling through the wet and the grey.
I thought: ‘Experience is like this’ (of course it is, it is my experience!) – most of it a thickened ambiguity – the swirl and swoon of our passing – when the winds are right you can make something out – particles of cloud, the edge of the wing, sometimes even a reflection. That was the moment – clouds surrounding the wing, the wing itself, and the reflection of the scumbling clouds on the wing: world, ourselves, and occasions where we catch our perception – our experience.
And then we touched down, wet splashing the plane, 21 hours and 41 minutes (by the clock) since I’d set out on this journey. Customs went smoothly, my luggage arrived, and I tunneled by train to my host. Now I’m in place at my window as the city becomes squares of lights. de Botton states it thus: “I returned to my room at three in the morning, struck by a sense of our race as a peculiar, combustible mixture of the beast and the angel.” Assessing out from myself and this view of the city, I agree.
“We forget everything: the books we read, the temples of Japan, the tombs of Luxor, the airline queues, our own foolishness. And so we gradually return to identifying happiness with elsewhere: twin rooms overlooking a harbor, a hilltop church boasting the remains of the Sicilian martyr St Agatha, a palm-fringed bungalow with complimentary evening buffet service. We recover an appetite for packing, hoping and screaming. We will need to go back and learn the important lessons of the airport all over again soon…”
It’s good to have help on the way. Thanks to Alain de Botton, Rick Hanson, Cees Nooteboom and David Foster Wallace for “a kind of writing that could report on the world while still remaining irresponsible, subjective, and a bit peculiar” – moving me (little by little) from a here to a there.
view from hotel window
15 February 2014