Monday, September 25, 2006

Traveling Mercies

A fair bit of my life has been spent traveling. No doubt, that is either predictable (considering my parents were missionaries in Africa) or unavoidable (reference prior parenthetic comment).

Sometimes I enjoy traveling and sometimes dread it. I have been reflecting of late on several times when traveling was a somewhat terrifying experience.

When our son was born in January, I was teaching at a local college at the time. I had arranged to take off one month following his birth, and then planned to return to full time work to finish out the semester. So for one month, I was away from campus and had not picked up my mail. (Understand, this is in the days before email!) Not long before I was scheduled to return to work, my husband said “Let’s go over to the campus and get your mail.” A seemingly innocuous suggestion. BUT—(buts are always followed by music—dunh, dunh DUNH!) but it had snowed the night before. So now the roads between our house and campus were completely snowed covered, and in fact barely passable.

Anyway, I agreed. So we bundled up our son, put him in the back seat of the car in an infant bed (again, in the days before infant carriers) and off we went. Just as we approached the first intersection on the interstate route we were traveling, I had this flash—WE ARE ALL GOING TO BE KILLED! For the rest of the half hour journey, I was terrified. I should have relaxed; my husband is an excellent snow driver, having “practiced” doing donuts as a kid in the parking lot of his school. Suffice it to say, we all survived. And that trip, though vivid in memory, is now some 34 years ago.

Flash backward some eight years. When my parents returned to Africa for their final term as missionaries, I stayed behind to finish high school and begin college. We were apart for five years, so understandably I eagerly anticipated their return home. Just about the time they were due back, I was called into the office of the president of the college I was attending. He informed me that an unknown benefactor had paid for me to fly to London to meet my parents so we could be reunited more privately. That is the subject of this flashback.

I distinctly recall that journey. First, I took the train from Harrisburg to New York City. I had made plans to meet some local church workers there (who knew my parents) and they would transport me to JFK. Well, we were
meeting in Grand Central Station (I think) and somehow I waited at one kiosk while they waited at another. We never did link up. So I made a mad dash outside, corralled a taxi and in a panic asked him to drive me to JFK. He turned out to be a kindly (and VERY chatty) driver. By the time I got to the airport I had calmed down—some. Now for the flight. I was flying on then BOAC, at night. I recall looking out the plane window as we flew along, and it was full moon. The moon seemed to be right next to the plane. I kept thinking—if I die now, I will never see my parents again. Then, we landed, and my parents, siblings, and I were reunited. We spent several days in London, then flew to Amsterdam for a bit more sight-seeing. On that flight, I thought—now I have seen my parents, so whatever happens makes no difference.

So, why the reverie on traveling? Perhaps, because I am mid-process planning another trip. This time to Ghana. I am mostly through with all the
immunizations that are required, or suggested. I am booking a plane ticket, and making all the other plans that need to be in place. And this time, I will be visiting my daughter. I have no trepidation about this upcoming trip, although the list of required and recommended immunizations is intimidating.

It is no wonder that many writers have used the metaphor of a journey to describe a character’s moving through life transitions. My trips have not really marked passages from one stage of life to another, but I recall each and use them almost like a jeweler’s loupe to view closely a facet of my life.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

There's a Nip in the Air

I love autumn!

So these last few mornings, when I get up and feel the nippy air, I am exhilirated. While I do love all the changing seasons, autumn has always been my favorite time of year.

I recall one time during a discussion, someone asked what time of day I liked best, and what time of year. Well, the time of day I love is sunset; and the time of year autumn. That response prompted the questionner to raise an eyebrow and ask: why do you like the two times that are symbolic of things drawing to a close? Short answer--I don't know.

Maybe it has something to do with good things happening in autumn: my daughter was born in October!

Maybe it has something to do with color. I love autumnal shades: vermillions, deep purples, yellows--all the colors.

Maybe it has something to do with football--a game I do love to watch, especially if it is
Penn State football. For more almost 30 years, my husband and I have gone to many of Penn State's home games. The drive to State College is wondrous, (if you can ignore the awful traffic jams) particularly when the trees that cover Pennsylvania's rolling hills begin to turn color.

Maybe it has something to do with the crispness in the air. As I walk, I sometimes catch a drift of a wood burning fire, somewhere. That smell alone transports me to childhood days where the air frequently hung heavy with wood burning. (Scientists have demonstrated that the sense of smell is the most evocative sense we have--it can trigger memories like no other sense! Check out
this site for info.)

Well, back to autumn. One poem captures the aspects of autumn that resonate with me--a sense that time is fleeting, but, oh so sweet in the present. Shakespeare (you knew it was coming, didn't you?) wrote Sonnet 73 which I have included as the fitting conclusion to this reverie on autumn.

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin'd choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou seest the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west,
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death's second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see'st the glowing of such fire
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire
Consumed with that which it was nourish'd by.
This thou perceivest, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

Friday, September 08, 2006


When my daughter was a little girl, I took her with me to the nursing home where my grandmother lived. While we usually visited my grandmother in her room, on this particular day she wasn't there, so we went looking for her. As we walked around the halls of the nursing home, we encountered one old woman who, while seated in a wheelchair, pulled herself along with her foot. You read correctly--foot. She had apparently had one leg amputated at some point, so her remaining leg and foot was all she had to propel herself.

As she pulled herself along, she kept repeating in a most plaintive voice: "Help! I've lost myself." Repeating this plea over and over again. We hurried on by her, still looking for my grandmother. Just as we got out of her earshot, my 4 year old daughter whispered loudly to me--"Do you think she lost her leg, too?"

At the time, it was wonderfully funny. But some twenty years later, I think about those folks that I encountered when I went to visit my grandmother. And, I also do much thinking about my own aging.

I am of two minds: in one mind, I am quite proud of being in relatively good health and physical shape (for, as they say, a woman of my age); in the other mind, I resent every creak I feel. I also find myself noting the ages of people I know who have died (or even the ages of those listed in the local obituaries). Then, I instantly do the math--that person was 72; well, that's 11 more years than I; or that one was 50, ha! I've got that beat.

There is a story that
Ingrid Bergman was asked, on the occasion of her birthday, how she felt now that she had reached the advanced age of 60. She reportedly responded: "I like it just fine, considering the alternative." Perhaps the story is apocryphal, but I like it. It captures exactly my feelings. While I can wish that aging weren't accompanied by aches and pains, or by some of the alarming physical changes one experiences, I still like it just fine considering the alternative.