Saturday, November 29, 2014

A Moment in Abu Dhabi

Every now and then the universe has an uncanny way of reaching out, tapping me on the shoulder, and bringing me back down to earth. Sometimes the message is delivered to remind me of something that I’ve forgotten or maybe just to grab my attention in the midst of my usual frenetically packed schedule. Other times I feel the tap as a big jolt that leads to an important discovery or decision—like the realization that hit me early one morning around dawn in the Abu Dhabi airport.

On October 8th I was changing planes from Amman and heading back for a week in the United States, and needed to find Gate 86 in the Abu Dhabi airport. I was a little groggy since there was practically no sleep at all on that flight from Amman (it did leave at 3:30 AM), and I had not been in this new part of this airport before.  I noticed extraordinary plants, but didn’t have time to relish their presence—my flight had left Amman very late and I needed to get to Gate 86 immediately or I might not even make my Chicago-bound flight. I usually love looking around in new airports and feeling the vibe they have created for travelers, whether a shopping vibe like in Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, or the zoo and butterflies and sunflowers in Singapore’s user-friendly airport. Waiting in airports (which I do frequently) actually allows me some solitude to think about things. But this morning, I am rushing around, trying to get my bearings, and hope that a sign will pop out of anywhere alerting me where I might find Gate 86. I am trying not to be distracted by the food court at the center of this terminal. Finally, I see a map of the airport and I scan and scour the map until my eyes land on the mark that shows where I am at that moment, pointing out the spot with bold red arrows and the words in English, You Are Here.

Those three words, intended to state the obvious, do have a congratulatory vibe, don’t they? Wouldn’t it be helpful, I muse for a second, if we could start every day with a map and a marker to tell us: You Are Here ???!!! Ahhh…

That’s when I felt the proverbial tap on my shoulder. My first reaction was to ask myself if, as the map tells me, I am here where exactly is that? More to the point: how did I get here? In truth, these aren’t easy questions to answer. But seeing as I live abroad and continually must answer to friends and family in the United States why I feel the need to continue to live and work in the Middle East—I realize that that’s cause for reflection. Clich├ęd as it sounds—staring at that map suddenly brought me face-to-face with the past and a life lived, for the most part, at full throttle.

It’s hard to ignore the message of You Are Here—cosmically, it’s almost an order to take time to slow down, look back, take stock of one’s life and decisions so far. All of it: the choices, the triumphs, the defeats, the smart moves and the mistakes, and everything in between. Oh—but not right now!!! I have to get to Gate 86! Daunting as that countdown was through the Abu Dhabi airport, I realized I needed to carve out some time sometime to think about that other race, the race through life. As we all come to terms at various points in life, I accept that only by recalling where I came from will I be able to see more clearly than ever where I am, who I am, and where I’m headed.

A half hour later I am nearing Gate 86, about to go through security again, and the sun has broken through the horizon. I can’t help but smile as I look out past the airport toward the expanse of wealthy Abu Dhabi—yes, when I glance over my shoulder at the expanse of airport territory I have just covered, all the way from the You Are Here sign to Gate 86, I smile, even laugh a little about the journey that morning, and the journey over the last 7 years in the Middle East. Maybe I will ponder that a little on the 14-hour flight to Chicago.

Of course if you have been a steady reader of this blog, this is where you might have a maddening impulse to yell at me through your computer: Okay, I get that you were momentarily lost in that airport, and then realized where you were, but where have you been the last 12 weeks!!!!! Yes, without so much as an announcement, a plan or decision, I have taken off the last 12 weeks (exactly I might add) from writing on the blog.  That is the longest break I have ever taken in the 89 months since I started the blog.  You might have wondered if I could have checked in, left a message, something.

I don’t know. I didn’t consciously abandon the blog. I did, however, have a more domestic lifestyle in the last three months that probably ate into the blog-writing time. My friend and educational soul-mate of 20 years, Christy Folsom, came to Jordan for three months while on her sabbatical and worked here. We fell into a typical domestic pattern of cooking, cleaning, washing, spending time like a comfortable married couple (don’t even—long ago I said that homicide is a distinct possibility if that ever happened). So all the time I might have written blog entries about the fun Saturdays in Amman, or the insights in human nature, the spa days, the sharing of insights and epiphanies, all of that got rolled into domestic existence and a kind of bliss that had never had much traction for me in Jordan.

So Christy is gone, the will to think and articulate what is going on, where I have been, where I might be headed, all studded with family reminiscences, show tunes, and sit-com references…it’s back. I missed the blog. I just needed another hour in every day. I love teaching about writing and I love the process myself. Of course, as Oprah explained, (by way of the original speaker, Ben Franklin) that she/he wrote to know what she/he thought (the ambisexual reference is if we look to Oprah or Ben). Writing allows you the space to sit down and open yourself up to the memories. It’s about retracing your steps to gain a deeper understanding of the journey.

Without question there have been highs and lows this autumn term. But as in any journey, life is not really about arriving at that one spot marked You Are Here.  It’s about all the choices and excitement and frustrations and challenges and triumphs you experience in getting there and about the consequences of those choices.

Okay, for what it’s worth, universe: I’m back.  I am here, and will be back in touch again soon.


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