Portland, Oregon, waking up before sunrise. I am on Central Time, so feel the need for my morning cup of tea before the house awakes. I sit quietly in my AirBnB, sipping, listening, and watching the day open up before me.
Yesterday was a day of travel, spent flying standby, waiting in airports, sitting on crowded planes, the metro, checking in, then finally setting off for a late meal on NW 23rd.
The day started with a minor detour at the Austin airport. Somehow I failed to see the newly renovated (and very obvious) security entrance at the east end of the terminal close to the Delta ticket counter. My wrong turn took me past the food court where I found two musicians I hadn’t seen in a couple of years. A quick chat and a promise to meet later in the fall left me feeling blessed, a little send-off from my fair city.
During the first leg of my journey my seat mate unpacked a large collection of catalogs. We talked a bit, and he quickly realized I knew very little about vintage cars so politely turned back to flipping pages. It wasn’t long though until he grew bored and started talking about other things, until he confided that he was on his way to visit his 91 year-old mother and that he and his sister planned to have a difficult conversation about moving her to assisted living.
Then came the bumpy ride descending through the storms near Minneapolis. All this a prelude to my layover I later realized. When I arrived at gate G22 I saw that my standby status had plummeted from 7 to 27 in a matter of hours. Mobile devices come in handy at this point, so I scrambled online looking for other options. Nothing available except to purchase an expensive one-way ticket that would add another six hours to my day. Not appealing, but possible.
I looked back at the monitor and somehow my priority had magically changed from 27 to 19, then to 10. Marq and I texted back and forth, and reminded each other of the standby mantra: “don’t leave the gate until the plane leaves the gate.” At next glance I was siting at priority 2, then 1, then the screen showed 0 seats available. My heart sank. Just as I was primed to push the “buy” button for a ticket on Southwest Airlines, my name was called. The agent handed me a seat assignment, checked my carryon, and hurried me down the jetway.
The ride from Minneapolis to Portland is a 3 1/2 hour flight so it’s good to develop rapport with your seatmates especially when you’ve just taken the last seat on the plane and are stuck in the middle between two strangers. The guy who sat to my left works for a company owned by the Koch brothers, said he likes them, and admires what they stand for. But in the next sentence told me he felt he would vote for Bernie Sanders in the New Hampshire primaries next February.
The young man at my right works in biomedical research and one of his most interesting projects deals with behavioral epigenitics — an emerging science that not only links us genetically to the health and physical traits of our parents and grandparents, but also to their cellular and behavorial memory created by unique life experiences and circumstances, things like affection, compassion, mental wellness/illness, hunger, abuse, wealth and poverty, etc. (More on that here.)
When we touched down in Portland, my heart sank for real this time. I had missed a call from my 85 year-old mother who rarely calls my cell phone. I already knew the bad news from home. My cousin could not recover from heart surgery and had passed away at 5:14 p.m.
A few minutes later riding the Max into downtown Portland, I practiced meditation and prayer, struggling to find a quiet place inside me so I could process this loss in our family. As the metro bumped along the tracks, as people came and went, as I waited for my stop, 4th one past the Willamette River, my breathing began to slow and the train’s gentle motion rocked me into stillness.
Pensive and thoughtful, the processing began. In one day’s journey…….
- I heard a fellow artist say she could benefit from a writing retreat (I just happen to have the perfect place in mind. Send me a message if you’re interested).
- I heard a man voice his frustrations over the upcoming 2016 elections, worried about the middle-class in America, yet contradicted himself in a way that baffled me.
- I learned that our young scientists are moving closer and closer to solving the complex puzzle of what it means to be human.
- I felt life circle round me as our family grieves my cousin’s death, as a stranger finds a way to help his elderly mother, as I step off the metro into the soft Portland rain, into my sister-in-law’s warm embrace.
That warmth continued into the night as we settled into our table at the Red Onion. The comfort of warm curry, a lovely bottle of red wine, an even bigger hug from my exuberant son who turns 31 today.
A prime number, I told him.
31….the beginning of his next thirty years, those years when we learn who we really are, when we work and thrive. Those years when life beats back at us with a rhythm that has been stored up inside us for generations and generations. A rhythm gifted to us by our parents and grandparents, a rhythm we forward to our children and grandchildren.
This rhythm pulses and keeps us alive — its query remains insatiable.
Photo by Ryan McGuire, www.gratisography.com