The year was 1996, and my husband, Dan, had never stepped foot outside this country. So when I suggested celebrating our 20th wedding anniversary in Paris, I knew he would balk but eventually say yes albeit the anxiety of navigating foreign soil, exchanging dollars for francs, and trying to decipher menus written in French.
This morning, as we inch our way toward 39 years, as we revisit the idea of traveling somewhere distant and exotic, I sit dazed and wondering where the years have gone, reflecting on the elusive nature of time, but mostly feeling grateful for the slew of adventures we’ve shared as husband and wife. Whether here at home or abroad, we’ve mastered the art of fastening seatbelts, holding on tight and embracing life’s journey – wherever it’s decided to take us.
That first trip had major drama attached to it. We were routed from Fresno to Salt Lake City, Salt Lake City to New York, New York to Paris, departing on July 18. Sadly, it coincided with TWA Flight 800, which crashed into the Atlantic killing 220 passengers. Of course, we called our families the moment we arrived in Paris and learned of the tragedy. You should have seen the messages left on our phone machine when we arrived back home.
Talk about feeling loved. A total of 47 calls — some panic-stricken, others tearful after learning of our safety, a handful reciting relief-filled hallelujahs.
Ever since, I’ve never taken air travel lightly and am admittedly neurotic about leaving the house vacuumed and in pristine order. I also stash love notes just in case — my mind’s eye still seeing bewildered families scurried off to holding rooms where very official looking men wearing dark suits and ear pieces were about to tell them their loved ones had perished.
This summer I’ve spent more than my fair share of time in airports, checking in luggage, showing ID and boarding passes, removing shoes, jewelry and laptop before going through heightened security. The experience ranks right up there with root canals and mammograms. Not one bit glamorous. Definitely more dreaded than desired.
There is, however, a silver lining. I love to people watch and eavesdrop. I also talk with strangers. So in the interior world of airports, whether I find myself on a shuttle bus, in a slow moving check-in line, waiting impatiently at baggage claim or inside a stalled aircraft — I notice something that may, in fact, be the saving grace of our not-so-friendly-skies. I see love. Always. Everywhere.
In the bustling city of airports, couples are kissing; parents embrace and soothe cranky toddlers lugging dollies and miniature backpacks; women are walking arm in arm with daughters, girlfriends and mothers in wheelchairs; husbands, wives, and partners grin full volume in anticipation of romantic getaways.
I’ve witnessed this here at home, too, at our Fresno Yosemite International Airport, where the acclaimed Honor Flights have transported veterans to Washington, D.C.
Twice now, I’ve happened to be there in time to breathe in the magic and watch men and women escorted by proud family and community members, making the trip of a lifetime — their faces emoting a joy near impossible to capture in words. I won’t even try.
There’s a great narrative in the opening scene of one of my favorite movies, “Love Actually,” that speaks to this magic.
“Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion’s starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don’t see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often, it’s not particularly dignified or newsworthy but it’s always here — fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know, none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge — they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaky feeling you’ll find that love actually is all around.”
Arrivals and departures. They share something wonderful in common — love. Maybe that explains my longstanding passion for travel. Whether it’s business or pleasure, domestic or foreign, the sight of lingering bear hugs, arms and hands waving madly and blowing last minute kisses, families and friends either running off together or being reunited after a long absence, the words being exchanged are the same in any language.
“Call the minute you land.”
“I miss you already.”
“Love you to the moon and back.”
Armen D. Bacon is a writer and co-author of “Griefland — an Intimate Portrait of Love, Loss and Unlikely Friendship.” (Globe Pequot Press, 2012) and a collection of essays, “My Name is Armen — a Life in Column Inches.” firstname.lastname@example.org, @ArmenBacon.