Sensitive Thoughts About Flying and Coming Home
I wrote this in my travel journal on the plane somewhere above the English Channel, but I thought “those nerds on Tumblr should read this, too!” So enjoy.
Modern travel has, with admirable and economical efficiency, dismantled the notion of an Odyssean journey home. There will be no Homeric epics written lionizing the unexceptional hell wrought by airlines, airports, and Americans abroad. The miracle of flight, long dreamed of, out of reach for centuries, has been made mundane and tiresome. Perhaps that is the real miracle - making flight itself joyless.
In the airport this morning, I saw what summed up the experience of being “in transit.” A paunchy man in his mid-forties, a bag of cookies in hand, loudly pressed past the rest of us in line to ask the poor frightened Air France employee some question. I couldn’t get over his lower half - shorts and lurid socks (pulled up) and some kind of sandal crossbred between TOMS shoes and Japanese geta.
All at once I was torn between an affectionate exasperation for Middle America’s sartorial choices and a reluctant acknowledgement that the barely-concealed disdain the French have for Americans has some merit.
(I could write a book about my opinions of France and the rest of Europe. Suffice to say, there are two Starbucks at the Louvre, along with a McDonald’s, a Fossil store, and an Apple store. If the Europeans think they are so above us, the Pizza Huts I saw in Paris must be there by mistake.)
But the man who offended my sensibilities and stirred my patriotic pride was soon gone, replaced by an unreasonably large high school group returning from a spring break to Spain, a long line, an even longer wait on the Tarmac, and flavorless pretzels provided by Air France as a charity or punishment (I’m not sure which). Now we are miles in the air, skirting by the southern coast of Great Britain, confined to our seats but bound - inexorably - for home.
Like Odysseus’s Ithaca, I want to be in Michigan with a zeal that surprises me. I love to travel, I looked forward to this trip for months, I loved every hour of it (though a long detour through Marie-Antoinette’s gardens tested its unconditionality), but I could barely sleep last night I was so excited to be home.
Maybe it’s the knowledge I’ll be coming back to people who love me, friends and family to captivate (or try to) with slightly embellished stories of my adventures. I am certainly looking forward to it - it’s almost my favorite part of traveling abroad.
I think it might have more to do with my consciousness of the old adage, “this, too, shall pass.” Watching nearly every certainty in my life shift in 2012, I hold the things and people I love more closely. The world - or my world - changes with alarming frequency, so I try not to take the best of it for granted. I am returning to people who make me a better person, and that is what makes Michigan my life and my home.
There is a word in Japanese for a return home - kaerimasu. It’s a curious lexical gap that denies English a similar word, because that really is the heart of it. I love going to all the theres the world has to offer, but I will always treasure the back agains.