Up in the Air

Airplane wing

You guessed it! I’m headed on vacation after a whirlwind speaking/hanging-out-with-oldest-and-dearest-friends trip.

Airports always bring out the philosopher in me. I guess it’s because they throw together such a random assortment of people—a sea of humanity from every imaginable culture, all yakking on cell phones and dragging black, wheeled suitcases—all traveling for their own fascinating reasons. As I lug my always overpacked (but cute and color-coordinated!) bags through concourse after concourse, desperately seeking a Starbucks and shaking my fist at the airport if it doesn’t have one, I people-watch, and I wonder…

I wonder how the Delta guy who checked me in at 5:30 am summoned the energy to smile so brightly and genuinely?

I wonder how the mom flying alone with an infant and cranky toddler is going to maintain her sanity on the flight.

I wonder if the couple in the matching pale yellow shirts did it on purpose, so they can spot each other in the crowd—kind of like baggage tags, only for people.

I wonder if the man traveling with a huge black trash bag spent all he had to buy his plane ticket, but couldn’t afford a suitcase.

I wonder if the lonely man scrunched up on the floor by the only available outlet, typing furiously on his laptop, ever takes breaks to hug his kids.

I wonder if I could walk the airport forever, riding the trains from concourse to concourse, living off prepackaged food and ridiculously overpriced bottled water and fashion magazines?

I wonder if the well-dressed couple waiting at the gate just got married yesterday, and if this trip signifies their first adventure as man and wife, the first day of forever?

I wonder what in the world possessed the flight attendant to wear five-inch heels. Seriously. This is not a runway… oh, wait, I guess it is. (BAH. That was a totally accidental pun.)

I wonder what the people in first class are thinking as we lowly coach people squeeze past them like cattle. Do they feel smug and superior? Or do they feel a little guilty? Especially when the flight attendants repeatedly announce that ONLY first-class people can use the first-class lavatory?

I wonder if the first-class lavatory really is first-class, or if it’s just a regular airplane porta-potty with a fancy sign.

I wonder why the airlines felt compelled to offer in-flight WiFi… why oh why must we forever be connected and working? Can we not soar above the earth, brushing heaven, and have a break for a couple of hours? Pleaase? (Okay, I know, they did it because of the money… ugh.)

I wonder if the four-foot-tall woman sidling by me in the aisle has been treated like a child her whole life, just because she’s short.

I wonder if they ever wash the airplane pillows and blankets… Maybe it’s better not to wonder about that one.

I wonder what it will feel like to hold my precious babies again, to wrap their cherub chubbiness in my arms and inhale their sweet innocence, to hear their squeaky lisps squeal “Mommy!”, and to snuggle into my husband’s strong embrace… But then, I don’t need to wonder about those things—I already know.

The Butterfly on the…Ummm…

My dad’s face was redder than usual, the way it always gets when he is laughing to himself. “Look at that,” he sputtered, pointing across my yard.

Dad and I were relaxing on my back porch, on the kind of glorious, angels-singing-in-the-heavens spring day when it is a crime to stay indoors. He pointed to a black butterfly with aqua lacing the edges of its delicate wings. It was breathtaking. I’d been on Butterfly Watch all week, ever since we’d planted several flowering plants that were supposed to draw butterflies (my four-year-old daughter was desperate for their arrival, asking me every day if the butterflies had come).

My admiring gaze traveled across the butterfly’s fluttering wings, down, down—and I burst out laughing. The butterfly was perched on an enormous, still-steaming pile of dog poop. (Thanks, Cole, you nasty dog, you.) Never mind the hibiscus bobbing merrily in the breeze just six inches away, or the other brightly colored, sweet-scented, butterfly-friendly flowers—oh, no, this butterfly insisted on sitting on a pile of poop. And he stayed there for an hour. (Of course, the moment we tried to snap a picture, he flew away. Argh.)

It seems to me there’s a message in that incongruous image.

Some days, I feel like that butterfly. And perhaps my fellow deep thinkers will know what I mean when I say… Here I sit—a creative, sensitive soul, my sentimental heart throbbing with ineffable longing, aching to grasp and savor life; living as fully as I know how, loving with terrifying abandon; a stubborn idealist with a melancholy streak—and the world is just a big pile of poo. We spend our days flitting around on fragile wings, decorating the world in our own small way; but when we want to land for a moment and bask in the glory of spring and life and all that is good, we can hardly breathe for the stench. We look for joy, but see heartache; we search for faithfulness, but find broken promises… and everywhere we turn we see children, precious souls, receiving lifelong wounds they are not yet old enough to grasp… it’s overwhelming, the heaviness this life can hold. I don’t mean to be melodramatic, just—honest.

But then other days, when I haven’t been the person I long to be, it seems like everyone else is the butterfly, and I am the unworthy pile on which their glory rests. And then some days, the really confusing days, I’m a little bit butterfly and a little bit… well, you know. And something tells me I’m not the only one who wrestles with these things.

I don’t want to overwork the analogy (or overuse the word “poop,” for that matter, although it’s probably too late for that)—you can run with it where you will—but my dad and I uncovered multiple profound messages in that bizarre juxtaposition. We could explore whether or not this was a masochistic butterfly… but I’ll leave all that to your imagination. And here I thought all butterfly metaphors had to do with caterpillars and rebirth! I confess, I’ll never look at butterflies—or the world—quite the same way again.

All I know is, sometimes the world really stinks. We’re doing our best to make it beautiful, venturing out on diaphanous wings, longing only for a fresh breeze and a comforting place to rest, but finding only imperfection and discontent… But then again, maybe the problem is not the whole world but our limited perception of it: Maybe we’ve simply stumbled upon the accident of a well-meaning but disorganized dog who needs a lesson in cleanliness; and maybe, if we look up, we might notice the sweet hibiscus welcoming us just a few inches away, planted just for us by a loving hand, waiting for us to find it…