Thursday, February 19, 2015

On the Road Again

I’m back at the airport. It’s been three months since I’ve been here. I didn’t miss it and it didn’t miss me, but we’re both fine seeing each other again. Except I hardly recognize Terminal 3.  In my absence, and without consulting me, United went and completely changed things around. I think they got jealous of the new Terminal 2. It’s disorienting. I was looking forward to greeting my old gates and now I don’t know where the heck I am. Everything slick and new. It fits America’s concept of goodness, but hey, there’s great comfort in familiarity and as far as I knew, the old Terminal worked just fine.

Did I miss traveling? Not particularly. It was good to hunker down into the routine of work and between the Winter break, short trips in the car, the ever-surprising encounter with children in my music classes, the always-surprising encounter with my own imagination improvising jazz piano, there was plenty of novelty and variety to keep me alive and alert.

But now two months of travel ahead and it still thrills me, that sense of being on the move, new sounds, new sights, new people, new possibilities. There’s a different quality of attention as one is called upon to negotiate signs in other languages, transportation systems, restaurant menus and beyond. And there will be plenty of repetition to keep things familiar—my own established world saved in folders on my laptop, books, a journal, Crostics puzzles, playing cards, teaching my familiar material in workshops, all the portable temples I carry around. Similar routines shifted to new locales.

It is that conversation between repetition and variety, familiarity and novelty, that keeps things both comforting and interesting. It’s the way our brain grows, the way our winged imagination finds feet and our footed imagination finds wings. Many rhythmic cycles to this dialogue and mine seems to have settled in three-month blocks, a cycle which began all those years back at Antioch College, where I studied for three months in Yellow Springs, Ohio and then went off somewhere to work for three months. Back and forth for four years like that. Who would have imagined that 30 or 40 years later, my life would resume the same rhythm? Three months at school, off somewhere to travel and teach (or home to write with a different schedule and feeling), back to school.

And so it begins with a short flight to Portland, Oregon to re-unite with my darling Zadie and equally darling (though now in the background) daughter, son-in-law and teenage step-grandchild Alijah. Then one more week at school—I’m not quite done—and then off for real to Europe, then Asia. The traveling music teacher come alive again.

The flight to Portland is mercifully short and no time zones crossed. Picked up by the men, Zadie at daycare, hop on a bike to meet my daughter Kerala for lunch downtown. First time biking in Portland, untrafficked back streets with plums blooming, 45 degrees and overcast, but warming up, a tricky stretch to figure out how to cross the Morrison Bridge, weaving in and around the homeless culture. Hard to avoid in Portland, but especially populated under the bridges. Then meet up with Kerala and my growing grandson in her belly, lunch at a Lebanese restaurant and catch up on the news. She back to work, me to Powell’s Books, my ritual pilgrimage. Find a good novel, book of poetry and two books for Zadie. Look for my own ABC’s of Education on the—well, Education shelves. It was there one visit! But not now. I guess it’s just so dang popular it sells out fast. Ha! In my dreams.

The return uphill bike ride awaits me, a pause on a bench at Powell’s and memory of the last time I was here, when my sister had just called and let me know that my Mom was on her way out. That was a difficult time, trying to decide whether to rush home. I didn’t, she waited and we said our last goodbye almost a year ago, April 6th. A friend’s recent news on Facebook about her Dad’s passing quoted him: “Nobody gets out of here alive!”

Truth with a dash of humor to lighten it a bit. And since it is true, let us attend to the gift of being here, alive, alert, awake. Yes indeed.

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