On Travel and Gratitude
I have made my way to gate E36 without a hitch. I have my passport in the smallest zipper pocket, right where I can easily access it, and my plane ticket secured in my side jacket pocket, also zipped. I refrained from going to get gummy bears and instead get into line after Zone 2 was announced, just as I was instructed. I have checked my seat number and committed it to memory to make sure I don’t cause anyone around me confusion or discomfort.
So here I am, finally settling into my seat, patting myself heartily on the back for successfully making my last plane that is headed to the writing retreat I bought myself for my birthday. “I fucking did it,” I am congratulating myself. But what I am more accurately saying is in the voice of my inner five-year old: “I can do it all by myself.”
Which begs the question: why does this feel like such an accomplishment? And, more importantly, will it ever stop feeling like one? I mean, this is not my 6th birthday, it’s my 40th. Being able to follow signs in the terminal for Gate E should be something someone of my age is quite capable of doing.
Anything we accomplish outside of our comfort zone is going to feel like a feat, like mission accomplished.
So why, I am wondering, does being able to handle adult activities like cooking dinner while at the same time successfully remembering to turn off the stove; finding my gate in the airport while also factoring in the time change; or keeping my children alive by remembering to do such things as feed them and bathe them, feel like such a great achievements? Haven’t I been old enough to do adult things alone for, like, two decades by now?
I’m not sure if it’s just me, but for some reason, the fact that I’m an actual adult who has been allowed to take care of a home, a mode of transportation, and the lives of three young boys feels mystifying. What test have I passed to earn such heavy responsibilities?
Here’s what I have settled on: anything we accomplish outside of our comfort zone is going to feel like a feat, like mission accomplished. And apparently, being an adult is still foreign territory to me, and to be honest, I hope it always will be, or the choose-your-own-adventure might become all too predictable.
We need to celebrate our own victories, our own journeys—to be ready to press one open palm into the other, life lines connected in a silent prayer, whispering gratitude to ourselves.
I can still remember, when I was about twenty-five, driving through an intersection in downtown Pittsburgh after a few glasses of wine, when I made an illegal left turn. It feels important to note that I didn’t make the illegal turn because I was drunk, I made it because the intersection was confusing. A hefty policeman approached my driver’s side window ready to battle. I whined like a toddler who didn’t get her way and he disciplined and reprimanded me for my carelessness. He asked for my credentials and then went to check them in his car while the fear of consequences began growing inside me. When he returned, he handed back my license and told me he wanted to let me go. This was a tremendously generous act and I instantly transformed into a giddy schoolgirl who had just dodged being grounded.
“High five,” I said, sticking my hand out the window.
“No,” he grunted. “No high five.”
“Oh come on,” I protested. He didn’t respond, just stuck his hand partway through my window so I could slap it, but I swear, out of the corner of his mouth, I saw a smile.
Maybe I’m this way because I get to work with children, coaching gymnastics. We laugh when other kids fart or trip or an inconspicuous dribble of slobber slides down their chin during a backhandspring. We play games. The relationship is simple: I ask them to follow directions and they do. It doesn’t matter where those directions lead as long as they trust me to get them where they want to be.
But when we get older, no one is going to lead us there but ourselves. If we have somewhere we want to go, we’re most likely going to have to drive there ourselves. And if we are lucky enough to finally arrive, friends or family might not be as readily available as a coach, to give us that high five.
So we need to celebrate our own victories, our own journeys—to be ready to press one open palm into the other, life lines connected in a silent prayer, whispering gratitude to ourselves. For, no matter how old we are, getting where we need to go, getting what we need to get done without someone else’s encouragement or forcing us to do the work, is a daily little miracle that deserves recognition, most importantly from within.