My phone croaked the familiar sound of a text message received, and slithered across the table as it vibrated. Do u think u can run to TJ Maxx and grab me a bathingsuit?? I read the message with growing irritation as I checked my watch: 3:30. Two hours before departure. Fine.I replied. The period at the end was meant to punctuate my annoyance. I had been nagging him for weeks to make sure he had everything he needed for our trip.
Fully expecting this last minute item request, I hopped into my car and raced to the South Bay Shopping Center, predicting the inevitable traffic jam through Andrew Square.
It was going to be my first trip to Europe, and it was full of questions. Not the kinds of questions you ask one right after the other, but the kinds that encompass your brain and linger all at once, like a dark, portending cloud.
Do I have everything packed? What if we miss our flight? Why didn't he buy a bathingsuit ahead of time like I suggested? What if we get lost while we're there and no one can help us ‘cuz we don't speak Greek and our phones won't work? What if I get bitten by a Greek spider and I get some sort of weird infection? What if they lose my luggage and I don't have my contact solution? What if the food is bad?
After purchasing the only bathingsuit left-why did they have such a terrible bathingsuitselection in July? Isn't it still summer? I punched it into his suitcase and we rolled out of our apartment, headed for Logan Airport.
More questions continued to race as quickly as the cars passing us in the tunnel. Some I knew were ridiculous, some I just had to have answers to.
"Do you think we should have dinner when we get to the airport? Or will we have an in-flight meal?" I asked him, trying to sound breezy.
"I don't know. We'll figure it out."
I turned and looked out the window, frustrated with this nonchalant answer to my very important question. I couldn't understand why he wasn't concerned about making sure every moment of this trip was just right. How can he not be worried about this? Should we stop and get a snack in terminal just in case?
With half an hour to spare before boarding, we arrived in the gate area.
"Let's grab a beer and start our trip off right!" He suggested excitedly.
I immediately snapped back, "We don't have time! What if they start boarding and we’re not there?"
"Relax, we'll make it," he responded. Cool as a cucumber. But I couldn't relax. So much moving forward from this point was unpredictable and, quite literally, foreign.
So much was beyond my control.
I rigidly sipped my Stella Artois between double and triple checks of my purse and carry on, making sure I had the important items I already knew I had. I could feel him becoming more and more disappointed with my inability to enter vacation mode, and it was beginning to plague the start of our trip.
After settling our tab and making just one more bathroom visit before boarding, we headed to our gate, my nervous stomach churning. Did they already start boarding? Did I leave my passport on the bar? I checked for it again, stopping so short that he crashed into me.
"You have it!" He said sternly.
As I quickened my pace heading towards the gate, I spotted what appeared to be a blur of orange t-shirts and lanyards pooled like a school of fish. The back of the t-shirts read something to the effect of "La Escuela de Madrid." It was my biggest nightmare: approximately 50 middle school students from Spain gathered on a school trip. Oh great. This is an overnight flight! What if they keep me up all night on the plane? What if I'm so overtired I can't even enjoy my first night in Greece?
I marched towards the boarding area, huffing and puffing, irritated at my bogus stroke of luck. I teach middle school. Don't I deserve a break from these kids? I merged into the line to board, ready with my passport and boarding pass in hand, eyes angrily focused on my clan of travel companions.
As I watched, something within me shifted and I softened.
A few girls in the pack were busy with the all-important task of taking “selfies,” with their BFF’s. A lanky teenage arm was stretched out to steady the camera, their heads weresquished together awkwardly, and they flashed their imperfect smiles (complete with braces and minor skin imperfections) over and over again.
A group of boys nearby had just purchased a rainbow of soft drinks from the Sbarro next to the gate, and mixed them all together into an unsuspecting empty cup. They dared one another to gulp what now looked like fizzy mud, and when they did, they were completely oblivious to the fact that the girls were admiring their bravery from afar. Once the challenge was complete, they relentlessly began poking, prodding, and pushing each other, unaware of the adult travelers they were getting in the way of. Even though they only spoke in Spanish, I understood. Theyspoke the language of middle school.
They were unafraid to lose control in their laughter, and they let moments of hilarity completely envelop them. They were forgetting their drawstring carryon bags in places they couldn’t remember leaving them, and glancing around perplexed as to how it could’ve gotten away from them. They were tripping over invisible obstacles on the airport floor without regret for the path they took.
They were carefree.
They returned me to the place in this world where I am positive, comfortable and accepting of what comes my way. Where there are more questions than answers, where things are forgotten or done at the last minute, and where almost nothing goes exactly as planned: my classroom.
It was the only moment leading up to this trip that was able to shake me from my ridiculously pessimistic and neurotic funk. Though they didn’t speak English, they told me something in that airport and in that moment: sometimes the best way to improve the future is to enjoy the present moment. Sometimes the best way to take flight into the unknown is to remember to stay grounded.