a sabbatical rest, day 182
post lockdown, day 1
I was born in Naples, Florida, back before it was a playground for millionaires. Barely more than a fishing village, it had its own culture, foodways and festivals, like smoked mullet and the annual swamp buggy races. As a small child, I thought going to Fort Myers, 30 miles (ca. 48 km) away, was an exotic excursion, through little places like Estero, founded by a flat earth cult. I guess it was a little exotic.
But later, we took annual trips to see my great aunt in Ohio, where some cousins lived on a farm. And when we went at Christmas, there was snow, really exotic for a Florida boy. And for a while, we lived in Tennessee where as a young teen I once took a bus from Chattanooga back to Naples, before the Interstate. It was a very long trip, stopping in practically every little town on US 41. I thought, by the time I got to college I was pretty well-traveled and could name all the states I have been through, all of them east of the Mississippi River. I had also been to the Caribbean. And as a college sophomore, I spent a summer in France, working at a rural youth camp, with a brief bus tour through Central Europe.
But still, I couldn’t have found Qatar on a map, and Kathmandu was a gag line in an Indian Jones movie. I count the countries, now: France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Sweden, Ireland, Scotland, Haiti, Israel, China, Argentina, Qatar, India, Nepal. And I’m not poorer for this travel, but richer in understanding and perspective. I realize not everybody has these opportunities. Not everybody would even take them. But, I consider it a blessing I can’t even measure.
This morning, I had yogurt and fruit on a balcony overlooking Kathmandu, and after an uneventful but pleasant morning in the airport, I am currently somewhere over Dubai on our way to Doha for a layover. Last evening Katie and I had tea overlooking a palace where a Hindu king was assassinated 16 years ago, history I had never heard of either. The night before we had dal bhat with Michael’s family and this morning breakfast with Richen’s family and coffee with Nepali colleagues in the afternoon. A common table creates a connection, and a common experience cements it.
These places and cultures are a lot further than Fort Myers, and, frankly, more exotic, with vastly different food-ways and entirely different festivals, all of them grounded in human longings and aspirations. This morning, we chatted with a young man at the airport who had finally gotten permission to travel to Australia to be reunited with his wife. She works there, and they would see each other for the first time since the pandemic began 18 months ago. In immigration, we met a woman from Russia who lives in Nepal and is a US citizen returning to the states after two lockdowns in Kathmandu.
Everywhere you go, people search for connection, with others or with God, find comfort in familiar foods, and find community in celebration. As we left, there were so many goodbyes, both physical and virtual ones. We were glad to see each other and sad to leave each other. And this is how it should be; seeing and celebrating, leaving and grieving, a spiral of human connection and hope, of knowing and being known. We did that in Naples, seven decades ago. And we did it in Nepal, for several months.
As Winnie the Pooh put it: “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”