A big and interesting world

Often there are stretches of time when I don’t get out much. The last month or so has been one of those stretches. Between a heavier-than-normal workload and sharing a car between three people I’ve been home more often than not. But there are times I do get on a plane and fly somewhere, mostly for work. When I leave and return I bring back images that feed my imagination for a long time, like bringing home fresh supplies for the pantry.

Earlier this summer I went to Berlin for a couple days for a work project and saw Checkpoint Charlie and a remnant of the Berlin wall in a free hour, ate white asparagus for the first time, and bought a bar of dark chocolate with juniper berries. Last week I broke my home-/office-bound stretch with a 48-hour trip to Denver, again for a work project. Due to the trip’s short duration, I didn’t see anything more than the hotel and what I could see on the ride to and from the airport. But even that is something. Between the airport and the city the land is suprisingly wide open. The first shuttle van driver--who seemed to love his job--discreetly danced with his fingers to the 80s disco music he had softly playing on the car radio, and occasionally tapped out the beat with the most intentional shakes of his head from side to side. I’m sure he thought no one would notice.  The small homes on city lots that lined the back streets he drove entering Denver are laviously landscaped, favoring a trimmed topiary style. At a stop light, the driver suddenly threw open his door and jumped out, running first to the street corner on our right and then to the corner on our left, pushing the “walk” buttons at each corner’s light. Back in the car he beamed with pride over this trick to coax a light to turn sooner in his favor, despite the fact that a car turning left from the intersecting street nearly shaved off the van’s front door as he was running from corner to corner. The second shuttle driver polled his passengers on where they lived and what was historically or culturally interesting about those places. “I want to know where I should go once I have the opportunity to travel,” he said. As we approached the airport, he pointed out the commissioned blue mustang rearing up between the inbound and outbound lanes, controversial now because of its eery red eyes and the fact that it fell on and crushed its maker during its making.

While walking through the Denver airport I thought back to the last time I had been there, a little more than 4 years ago. My son and I were flying to the west coast to visit a potential college and had a couple-hour layover there between Minneapolis and Seattle. As it turned out, his final college decision swung east and so he spent his four years on the opposite coast. All graduated now, he moved to New York City yesterday to start his life’s exciting next chapter.

I recently read Willa Cather’s O Pioneers. In the novel, Alexandra, the novel’s main character, told her friend Carl the story of a neighbor who was despondent over the sameness of life, but after going away to visit relatives in Iowa for awhile, came back happy and stayed happy despite the sameness, “contented to live and work in a world that’s so big and interesting.” Alexandra concluded it was similar for her. Although unlike her neighbor, she had never really left the prairie and experienced that bigness herself, but just knowing it was there, imagining it, seeing herself operating within that world--and knowing she worked in part to send her brother out into that world--was enough to reconcile her with her life.

Today, I’m home, back at my desk and the computer and relative sameness. The house is quiet. My son is gone--this makes two of them--out into the big and interesting world. Knowing it’s there and imagining them operating within it is at once a joy and a grieving, a longing and a thrill. Let the reconciling proceed.