Tomorrow night my sister will take me to the Tel-Aviv airport and, hopefully, I will board a flight that arrives in Newark, NJ, at 4:20 the following morning. I say hopefully because there are various warnings of weather-related delays and cancellations all around the US. I wish for all those traveling during this holiday minimal hassle and major ease as they gather with family and friends.
As I near this trip’s end, what stays in my mind? Believe it or not, it’s the scene from Newark Airport when I left 10 days ago. I often use the airport’s Terminal C, from which United Airlines flights take off. It doesn’t easily accommodate the enormous crowds that flood its corridors and concourses, and don’t even ask me about the wait in the women’s bathrooms and inadequate seating areas by the gates.
The crowds were there that Saturday, rushing and jostling, and I found myself reaching for my mask. People hurried with their carry-ons in all directions, not looking right or left, staring relentlessly towards their destinations, as if in this vast international confluence of travelers all they could do was stay in their respective personal tunnels. Or else they contemplated the phones in their hands, which made the tunnel into a box, bumping into others or turning right onto others’ paths without apology, oblivious.
I walked back and forth, assisting a woman flying to Puerto Rico shepherding a young man with Downs Syndrome in a wheelchair along with big carry-ons and bags. She told me that someone had dropped the man as a boy at her home and was supposed to pick him up that evening, and never came to get him, so the boy grew into a young man who’s been living with her all these years.
Terminal C wasn’t the place to get the full story, I simply took her bags while she pushed the wheelchair to her gate, bid her goodbye, and rejoined the whitewater of people streaming in all directions.
Suddenly I heard piano music. Chopin, unmistakably. I searched and saw a black, grand piano smack in the middle of the wide concourse. A young Japanese man, seated on the piano bench, was playing the famous Nocturne in E-flat major. I stopped to watch and listen. No one else did except for a man in an orange jacket on the other side, sipping from a cup.
The pianist finished the Nocturne, making full use of all the grace notes and other embellishments Chopin added to the melody, like twinkling Christmas ornaments, and went straight into a Chopin waltz. No one seemed to pay any attention to him or the music as they rushed here and there, to and from their gates.
Finally, I tore myself away and walked, slower than before, towards my gate in another concourse. The music got softer and softer, finally fading completely, but the exquisite feeling of finding an unexpected treasure remained. Briefly, I thought of the time when I played those compositions many years ago; also remembered seeing Artur Rubenstein play Chopin, one of his last concerts.
I thought of how there’s treasure everywhere around me, if I only pay attention: my brother-in-law’s hand-baked cookies, which he gave me for my morning coffee, a cyclamen plant on the dining table four feet away from a yellow painting of flowers in a vase by my niece. It’s so easy to just rush forward towards goals and destinations without pause.
Someone emailed me after my last blog about how I and two siblings met for “family consultations” in the Sinai, talking about the ingredients of our lives. “The three of you together help each other improve,” she lauded.
That wasn’t it at all. Our talking and sharing questions on a deep level had nothing to do with self-improvement. Yes, there are always things to pay attention to, edges we’re still clumsily negotiating, but all is contained inside a framework of wellbeing, of taking joy in ourselves, of appreciating that we don’t duplicate each other but are all the stronger due to our differences.
My brother likes to organize things, look up airfare and schedules, what’s needed at border crossings, etc. When he gets pushy, he gets a bit of blowback from his two older sisters, but also appreciative laughter at how well he arranged the trip. I’m fast and purposeful, keen on making use of every moment, and they shake their heads and laugh at that, too. My sister slows us down, insisting on R&R, and we have learned to take that to heart. Together, we make a fine team.
As the years and trips pass by, I sink deeper and deeper into the self. I hope I have the time and health to continue creating and doing, but always remember to pause for the treasure, musical and otherwise, that’s there in every aspect of the self.