Friday, February 28, 2014


I’m sitting in my Toronto-bound plane in HongKong airport, waiting for everyone else to get seated, as the sun comes out from the mist and cloud and the afternoon shadows sharpen and lengthen.

In the last few days of packing and anticipating departure from Chiang Mai, I’ve found myself in a familiar state: a little edgy, sharp-tongued, unsettled. You’d think that after all these years I would take departures for granted, but somehow that has not happened. I’ve written here before about how I hope I never lose my sense of wonder about travel, whether in a plane or otherwise. Part of that wonder is also what gives me edge and edginess: a departure is a loss, a severing from place and people. It’s something I can never get used to. On the other hand departure is also marks the start of new possibilities and the opening of new horizons. That’s why travel has such appeal to many people, including me.

But there’s a disconnect between the romantic notion of “travel to faraway lands” and the focus and attention to detail that are necessary to actually get where you’re going. When it comes right down to the actual days leading up to departure, the practical details of packing enough underwear and warm or cool or whatever clothing, and basic checklist questions such as do I have my passport and other essentials? have I locked the house? watered the plants? etc, then there’s not much romance. 

I think it’s in part that need to focus on practical details that makes me edgy.

But I think that it’s mostly because I have an old-fashioned feeling about travel. No matter that flights halfway around the world can happen with speed and ease. For me they are still huge and momentous departures. Perhaps I’m channeling the feelings of fear and anticipation that humans have felt for centuries as they embarked on perilous sailing-ship voyages, often never to return home, or made the fraught transition from hard-scrabble village and farm life in rural China or India or Africa to the terrors and possibilities of the cities….

Thus the idea of departure becomes one more moment in life where we can be either “glass half full” or “glass half empty” people. I am mostly a glass half full person, with a (sometimes irritating-to-others) inclination to see the positive. When the time for departure actually comes, though I may have been edgy ahead of time about the loss involved in saying farewell or the anxiety about what might come, I lose that little feeling of dread and can usually feel unequivocally pleased about the new horizons that lie in the journey and the destination. I’m not bragging about this. I think it’s just a matter of luck that I love the unknown and the unexpected, rather than fearing them.

Now safely landed in the wintry chill of Toronto in late February, I look back on the thoughts I had in the plane and on my edginess before leaving, and they feel like the clothing I wore in the flight: familiar, now needing a wash and an airing, but destined to be worn again when the time comes to make another departure.

These habits of thought, which we may well be able to modify when we’re young, eventually become part of us, at least so it seems. I don’t expect ever to get matter-of-fact about departures or long flights or parting from loved ones.

And if travel is, as the truism goes, a metaphor for life, then it is one way of accustoming ourselves to the truth that all life is change. We can count on nothing remaining constant except the fact that everything changes and that we are all mortal and headed sooner or later to the biggest change of all. Every departure is a small death, just as falling asleep can be, a letting go, a loosening of the ties to the known and an embarking on unknown seas...

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