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Posted by on Aug 29, 2007

Airports and revelations

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This is the Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg. Oliver Tambo was a leader of the anti-apartheid movement, along with Nelson Mandela, as well as a leader of the African National Congress, or the ANC. That is beside the point because I just wanted to reflect on how enticingly desolate the international terminals of airports are in off-peak times.

One of our colleagues was flying to Washington , D.C., so he had to take an earlier flight. We all left for the airport together from Pretoria. By this point, there were only three of us from an original group of nine. It was like some sort of inverted Survivor series, the last one to go home when the object of the game is to go home.

So I was left as the last one. Sitting at this end of the terminal, watching the planes go by, anticipating seeing my wife again, slightly sighing knowing I may never return. It is the sublime bittersweet emotion of traveling, happy to set out on the homeward journey, saddened by what you are leaving.

This kind of emotional complexity is part of maturity, as far as I can tell. Not since childhood has there been a purely positive or negative emotion, everything bleeds into everything else. Emotions are complex; the logic behind them even more so. It is as if time itself is bending us all towards moderation, an emotional moderation. From that level ground, we can see for miles, into the workings of this world, into our own souls, our own hearts. I quoted this before, but I will fall on St. Augustine to express what I cannot:

“Complete abstinence is easier than perfect moderation.”

It is easier to completely embrace or reject something; it is much more difficult to understand the complexities and contradictions that exist in everyone, in everything.

When the passion fades, it feels like understanding remains, a complete understanding.

In this way, this emotion of traveling is spiritual; it helps us understand ourselves in relation to others, to geography, to our own emotions. It helps us understand the real journey we are undertaking, the search for self and my relation to the world, the search for God, the search for my likeness in his image, buried deep in myself.

It is the most noble of journeys and, for me, it is freely available whenever I travel. That seems to be the conduit for this type of personal understanding. I can’t get it at my cubicle at work. I always seem to experience this fluttering emotion at airports.

Pardon me for this cliched metaphor, but it is like a bird flapping its wings (I was going to say butterfly, but I would like to retain a shred of my masculinity; not that butterflies aren’t masculine, but…..well….they aren’t). When a bird flaps its wings, there are a million different movements and functions occurring, all inter-related, all working together. However, the beauty of the bird soaring through the air, wings flapping, pierced gaze, aero-dynamic form, is much greater than the sum of its parts.

That is traveling. It is greater than the destination, it is greater than the journey, it is greater than our perception of both. It is greater than the indvidual, but deeply rooted there. It transcends this life.
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