I was scared to go, but I was even more scared to stay. Yeah – I’m happy to report that I realized the idea of being stuck in a rut was even scarier to me than the idea of putting myself into what is, essentially, a can with wings and crossing 2,000 miles across the continent.
In the years before I was married I’d done a lot of solo traveling – long drives and flights to new adventures and friends. But after I married, I gradually started traveling less and less by myself – a change so gradual, in fact, that I hadn’t realized until recently that it had been, like, eight years since I’d taken a flight by myself. I’d grown used to traveling with a partner. The idea of launching myself on a flight to Chicago without someone else there to help me retrieve the electronic ticket, remember my passport and boarding pass, find the shuttle bus to the hotel at the end of the flight, and remember to gather up all my luggage at every stop – this was all pretty daunting to me.
But if I didn’t make an effort to have this solo adventure I would be admitting that I’d somehow, sometime, crossed over an invisible line that separated the fearless travelers from the scaredy-pants rut-clingers – and the idea of THAT terrified me.
And so I went.
I left work early on Friday and began my epic odyssey by traveling the 80 miles from my job to Sea-Tac Airport in Seattle. This part of my adventure actually ended up being the most challenging part of the whole enterprise. Everything was good until I reached north Seattle where I found myself trapped on I-5, dragging along in stop-and-go traffic. I thought I’d left work with plenty of time to make it to the airport, but as I eked along I began to worry that I wouldn’t get there before my flight took off.
And then I consciously let go of the worry – whatever happened, I told myself, I’d be alright. If I missed the plane, I missed the plane – and I’d just catch another one. Nothing is outside the control of Love, and everything is moving in harmony with Love, I reminded myself. I mentally became still, listened to my Allison Krauss CD, and let myself be guided through the traffic by Love’s direction.
I was stuck in that 10 mile traffic jam for an hour. The joy and gratitude I felt when I finally broke through to the other side of the clog and was able to take my foot off the brake is indescribable.
I had decided to park right in the airport’s parking lot, and on the fifth floor found an open space marked C-17. Remembering one’s parking space number is kind of a big deal in the Sea-Tac garage (I just googled and found that there are more than 9,000 parking spaces there), so as I unloaded my backpack and headed for the elevators I kept repeating under my breath “C-17, C-17, C-17…”
Retrieving the electronic ticket for my Alaska Airlines flight to Chicago was quick and easy; my ticket was marked “Pre” – which meant I’d already somehow been pre-checked – and I was ushered into quicker lines through security – didn’t have to take off my shoes or take anything out of my bags – the whole process from getting into the end of the line through the checkpoint probably took five minutes – and then I was told to go to gate C-17 to catch my flight. So now I was saying “C-17, C-17, C-17” for my flight’s gate number and at some point that merged with my garage parking space in my mind. (This would come back to bite me in a couple days.)
I’d been assigned a window seat, and as the plane took off and headed east, captured some pictures of Mount Rainier sticking up above the clouds – all majestic and beautiful. Every time I look at that mountain it brings back happy memories of climbing it – it is a symbol of “home” to me – so being able to see it, up-close like that, was very cool. The flight was uneventful, the pilot friendly and honest -“We’re going to be experiencing some bumps up ahead, so please keep your seatbelts buckled – we should be through it in ten minutes…” – and my fellow passengers pleasant companions in the winged can.
We arrived in Chicago near midnight. I’d read that at midnight the half-hourly shuttle service to my hotel ended, and I’d have to call the hotel to get the shuttle out to pick me up. I was worried about this part – how did that work, exactly? Would I end up walking to my hotel? And would that be, like, safe? But when I got to the door where my hotel’s shuttle bus picks up passengers, the shuttle was sitting there waiting for customers, and the driver gave me a cheery welcome to Chicago and motioned me on board. After a quick ride to the hotel with some young chiropractors in need of french fries and cocktails, and headed to some chiropractoring workshop at the hotel, I finally laid me down to sleep at one in the morning.
I didn’t set my alarm – I decided I would just sleep until I was done sleeping – and if I was late to my meeting, so be it. But I woke up at 7:30, got dressed, packed up my backpack, and went downstairs in search of vittles.
I have not yet explained why I was making this epic journey to Chicago, have I? Years ago – back in 1981 – I took Christian Science class instruction in Chicago. Class instruction is where a Christian Scientist is taught how to be a Christian Science practitioner – it signifies a commitment to the healing practice of Christian Science. Every year those who have passed through class instruction meet together once again with their teacher and classmates to review and renew their understanding of the practice of Christian Science. I had made dear friends during class instruction – the year I went through class almost all of us were involved in the arts somehow – there were artists, musicians, writers, photographers – really gifted people amongst my classmates – and pretty much everyone who’d had class with my teacher had a well-developed sense of humor, too (my teacher had been a real character, with a love for laughter and fun). I was looking forward to seeing my classmates again, and I was also very much looking forward to meeting for the first time another Christian Scientist who lived in Chicago and whom I’d met on Facebook – she was going to join me for lunch at noon.
So as I went downstairs for breakfast I began scanning faces to see if I could see anyone I knew – and almost immediately I saw my friend, Mary – I would be spending that night with Mary and her husband, Kevin, who had been a classmate of mine. Mary told me where the meeting was going to take place that day, and showed me how the buffet worked, and I was good to go.
Our teacher passed away some time ago, but the speaker at this year’s Association meeting had been one of his students – though in a different class than mine. Todd did a wonderful job – he shared stories of our teacher that had us chuckling in fond remembrance – and addressed concerns that many of us share about the world and our place in it.
At lunch I went out to the lobby – all excited to meet my new friend, Patricia, for the first time in the person. Soon she came breezing through the door – beautiful and smiling – we gave each other a big hug and then sat down to enjoy a lunch together. Our waiter was a man named Hagi – and Hagi was wonderful – he brought us each free cups of tomato soup before serving us our respective meals, chatted with us about different restaurants and the best prepared beets he’s ever had, and his experience working on a cruise ship. And Patricia was… she was just this amazing reflection of energy and life and joy. She shared her story – the time in her life when she was in transition between the old and the new – and how she came to find Christian Science. The hour I spent with her was perfect in every single way.
After the afternoon meeting I went home with Kevin and Mary, and met their daughter, Alyssa, who’d just recently returned from Japan where she’d had a stint as a teacher. We went out to a Mexican restaurant where a lady made us fresh guacamole as we watched and put the exact ingredients we wanted in there – that was very cool. And after dinner, we drove down to the beach of Lake Michigan and hung around there for awhile, and then came back to Kevin and Mary’s home, where Alyssa shared photos of her travels – really great pictures of life in Japan.
I woke up early the next morning and read for a little while. Then I got dressed and walked the mile or so from Kevin and Mary’s home to Lake Michigan. I love the gracious old homes in Evanston – domes and turrets and curved doorways and windows and paned glass. I enjoyed, too, the squirrels bouncing off every branch and scrambling up every trunk – their cheeks full of nuts and seeds. Lake Michigan looked beautiful in the morning light – there were bands of emerald and jade and turquoise to the horizon, and a sailboarder launched his board into the water and set sail along the lake’s shore.
Soon after I returned to the house it was time to head for the airport. Mary had graciously agreed to drive me to the Alaska Airlines departure area, so I didn’t have to worry about shuttle busses that morning. We stopped at a Starbucks on the way, for a last chat about life – I enjoyed that very much – and then, too soon, I was at the airport, giving Mary a hug good-bye.
Now that I’d already had some experience with the electronic ticketing kiosk, I felt pretty confident about retrieving my return ticket. But the Alaska Airlines kiosk could find no record of me. This was a little disconcerting – until, looking down at my itinerary, I realized that on my return flight I would not be traveling with Alaska Airlines, but with American Airlines. Ahem. Yeah. So I made my way to the American Airlines kiosk – where records of my return trip were actually found – Haleleujah! – and then, once again, was quicky able to pass through the security area, and make my way to the departure gate.
I was unloading my laptop in the waiting area when I glanced to the left and saw… could it be? No. Yes. It was! There was a former teaching colleague of mine – he’d actually been my student teacher years ago – sitting in the waiting area at O’Hare airport with his wife. Richard was totally out of context there, and it took several moments for my brain to register that this man I knew from Skagit County in Washington State was sitting in an airport in Chicago. We took a quick picture together for Facebook, and then I left Richard and his wife to their own space while I went to work on down-loading my Evanston photos onto my computer.
When we were allowed to board, I quickly found my seat on the plane in the middle of a row of three (these seats were only the second row behind the bulkhead and had more leg room – which was really nice for the long-legged people who were sitting next to me). Sitting on my right was a man busy with his cellphone, and to my left was an empty seat. I stowed my backpack under the seat in front of me and then watched the other passengers board – wondering which one of them was going to turn and look at the seat next to me and claim it. I really, really hoped this person would be hygienic and either easy to talk to, or easy to ignore. And finally he appeared – a tall blond man with a friendly smile. The man to my right and I stood up so that he could squish himself in there next to the window. And then, I could not help myself, the words just tumbled out of my mouth with heart-felt relief: “I’m so glad you guys don’t smell!” They both started laughing. The man on my right agreed with me that it was probably a good idea to take care of one’s hygiene before getting on a plane crammed with people, and the man on my left said that he’d just gotten off an eight-hour flight from Europe and was relieved to know he didn’t stink.
It did not take long for us to settle in comfortably with each other. And just as we did, another passenger entered the plane, smiled at me sort of apologetically, and showed me that I was actually sitting in his seat, and that my seat was on the other side of the plane. He intuited right away, though, that some kind of bonding had already happened between the three of us, and offered to change seats with me. The seat he ended up in was a nice roomy window seat right behind the bulkhead, with an empty seat in-between him and the other passenger in his row – so I think we were probably both blest in this exchange.
I do not believe I have ever been seated between two more congenial strangers on a plane. As it turns out, the man on the left was from Ireland, and the man on the right was returning to Seattle after a jaunt to New York to root on The Sounders soccer team, and they were both employed in the technology field. I can no longer remember all that we talked about – I know there was mention of music (the Sounders supporter and I are both huge Allison Krauss fans, and the Irishman is a jazz musician), movies (O Brother, Where Art Thou came up) and books (1984 and James Joyce’s Ulysses were mentioned – I think we’d all stalled out on Ulysses), travels and hikes and climbs and other assorted adventures were shared. I made two new friends on that plane ride – unlikely friendships, to be sure – I was old enough to be the Irishman’s mother – and the Sounders supporter was probably only 10 or 15 years older than the Irishman ; they were both techno-wizards, while I… am not; and they are both, well, men. But it was such a blast sitting between these guys. We talked pretty much non-stop for four hours! I’ve never known a plane ride to go so fast!
We shook hands and exchanged linked-in information with each other at the end, and then parted for our separate journeys.
Which brings me back to the parking garage. So, as you may recall, my gate number and parking space number had been the same – but now, as “C-17” came into my thoughts and I remembered that had been my gate number, I started doubting that “C-17” was also my parking space number. I mean. What would be the odds, right? So I got off the elevator on the fifth floor – because at least I remembered for sure what floor I was parked on – and began to wander in the direction I remembered coming from when I’d arrived. I was sort of looking for C-17 – but not with complete confidence about it all. I wondered how long it might take me to go down every parking lane on the floor before I found my car. I could be there days. Would archaeologists someday unearth my body from the farthest reaches of the parking garage and make up really cool stories about how I had ended up there?
Of course, it only took me five minutes to find my car, to see with a grin that I was actually parked in a space with the same number as my gate number, and to start winding my car out of the garage and back onto the highway.
The expressway was open on I-5 and the return journey home was quick and smooth.
As I was driving home it occurred to me that I’d never been traveling solo. All along the way Love had been preparing the way for me – bringing me safely to my friends, introducing me to new friends, and putting me exactly where I needed to be when I needed to be there.
As I pulled into my little enclave in Bow, I remembered the rose plant I’d saved from a road construction site the week before and remembered that I hadn’t watered it before I’d left. Had it survived the weekend? So the first thing I did when I pulled-up to my home was grab a watering can and head for the rose bush. Once it was watered, I wandered up to the back deck and started watering the plants up there. And that’s when my husband, phone in hand, saw that I was home. He came out onto the deck, laughing, and said to his mom – who was on the other end of the phone – “Karen’s home! She’s out on the deck watering plants!… Nope, she didn’t come in through the front door… nope, not sure when she got home… yup… you want to talk to her?”
And so I arrived back into the bosom of my family holding a watering can.