Saturday, October 29, 2011

Things We Have Control Over...and Things We Do Not.




We are back at the gate.  Again.  I don’t know how long it’s been since we first taxied away and looped the runway, and came back again…and I don’t want to know.

Travelling with Paul—it’s easy.  I never worry—about bags, about delays, about extra long security lines.  I know he’s going to be right there to help lift my bag on to the conveyor belt, or hold my jacket while I run to the bathroom, or tease me about my lousy attitude if I haven’t had my coffee/water/wine (depending on the time of day).  I have come to rely on this.  I have come to take this as a given.  So now, when I have to brave the airport alone, I feel unprepared at best…and like a sniveling grump-o, at worst.

And this afternoon, when I left our Brooklyn apartment to come home to our LA apartment (don’t ask), the weight of my over-packed carry-on was like a premonition in my hand.  I did a quick mental calculation of subway steps and train transfers, and walked out into the whipping cold—all by my lonesome.

It’s ridiculous, folks, for me to feel this way.  The number of years I spent navigating all the ups and downs and transfers of my life solo—there is no reason I should feel so besotted with loneliness at the thought of, gasp, carrying my own bag AND purse AND jacket.  The. Whole. Way. Alooooooooone.

Alright, so…I lug my bag down the appropriate number of train steps,  I brave a subway transfer or two, I wait diligently for the appropriate “A” Train to come by, the one that goes to Howard Beach/JFK, and not the one that goes to all the other millions of places the “A” Train goes.  I am assured by a very grumpy woman who is also carrying a suitcase (I wrongly assumed she was also airport-bound) that the train will say on the side that it’s going to JFK.  This does not turn out to be the case.  (And when grumpy-suitcase-woman snuck on to an unmarked C-train without a word…I became deeply suspicious.) However, sneaky suitcase woman or not, I ended up on the right train, somehow…though the whole adventure takes me a lot longer than it should.  And this is it—the beginning of things taking longer than they should.

The train, the other train, the harried trip to the self-check-in kiosks…all of it took longer than it should.  And at the airport, as I’m shoving my scarf into my jacket and fretting about whether my carry-on is going to fit properly into the overhead bins when I get there or whether, like it happened on the way there, some nice old man was going to have to help me jam it into one of the compartments while a dozen aggravated travelers wait behind me…the strap of my purse breaks off my arm.  (This early death may, and I emphasize may, have been hurried along by my trying to jam my laptop into a purse that a laptop for certain does not belong in.)  Regardless of the cause, it breaks…and the guilty laptop and several other things go spilling out onto the floor.

“Oh, your purse broke!” Calls out a woman from across the way who is trying to be helpful.  People are always trying to be helpful like this when you’re in New York. 

Yes, thank you, I said.  I noticed.

As I knelt down, repacking my now-disabled purse, I kept hearing my friend Saskia’s voice chanting in my ear, saying, “the hurrier I go, the behinder I get.”  It’s something that her father used to say to her when she was young, and it stuck for me, just as it must have for her.  I love it.  The hurrier I go, the behinder I get.

Now barely able to keep my personals in check, I go hurrying (yes, I know) down the million mile airport hallways to the security check point where, for some reason, only three of the many security lines are open and traveler traffic is at a standstill.  I look at my watch.  My plane will begin boarding in fifteen minutes.  I can feel my face starting to get flush.

There are very few things that upset me more than being late.  It is a pathological upset for me.  That, and food getting cold before I am able to eat it.  These are two turns of fate that make me feel like I am losing my grip on the handlebars of my life.  Being late makes me crazy.  I used to have serious meltdowns about it.  I have gotten past that, now that 1. I am an adult and can’t really justify having meltdowns about totally meaningless things and 2. I have been late enough times in my life that I now know the world won’t end.  However, the fact of my aloneness and my giant carry-on bag and my broken purse and the idea that I could miss my plane through no fault of my own, was all conspiring to elevate my temperature and heart-rate and internal rage-o-meter.

And as I stood in line, shuffling from one foot to the other, sighing and rubbing my forehead and aggressively planting my bag in front of some chick who kept trying to cut in front of me, I thought back to the yoga class I had taken the day before. 

There is a new (ish) studio in my beloved DUMBO neighborhood that I am trying to pop into when we’re in town, and I was lucky enough to get into a class yesterday with a teacher I knew from Laughing Lotus, back in the day.  She’s lovely and either Australian or South African—(she is cool-accented, wherever she’s from) and wild-of-hair (like me) and grounded.  She’s one of these teachers who has studied yoga with all kinds of people in all kinds of styles, and you can feel it in her teaching—it’s round and robust.  Full.

Anyhow, for all her gifts in the yogic arts, she started class wrestling with the stereo.  The studio’s stereo system is apparently finicky, and so for the first several minutes of class all we could see was her prone body and the back of her curly head as she coaxed the volume on the ancient set up and down and up and down.  And as she fiddled and groaned about the volume (which refused to budge), she told us how she’d been reading an article earlier that day about all of the things in our lives we think we have control over but actually don’t.  “Electronics,” she said, twirling the volume up and down, “elevator buttons…we think that somehow pushing that button over and over again is actually doing something…but it’s not.  It really has no effect on it, at all.” 

And I thought about this, as I stood in the security line, trying not to scream.

What, honestly, was there to be done?  All the griping and forehead wiping in the world wasn’t going to make things go any faster than they were going.  My angry face was not going to stop me from missing my plane, if that’s what was going to happen.  The fact that I, good student that I am, already had my laptop and liquids and shoes ready to go when I was still fifty feet from the conveyor belt was not, as much as I might want it to, going to change anything about the behavior of anyone else in line in front of me.  I was stuck.  That elevator was going to come when it was going to come, no matter how many times I pushed that goddamn button.

(And let me just tell you…it was a lot.)

And for what felt like the dozenth time in as many days, I thought about how much easier things can be, what a relief they can be, when you can just get comfortable with where you are.  Even (god forbid) if it’s not where you want to be. 

The universe does not owe me an on-time flight.  It certainly is not so deeply indebted to me that I am allowed to act like an a-hole, just because I am in a hurry.  No amount of mental gymnastics are going to change the reality of slow trains, slow lines, and broken bags.  So, why does it feel like it might?  What is it, what little crossed wire in the brain makes it seem like if we just get upset enough, if we just grouse enough or pout enough or rail enough against…that things might actually rearrange themselves in front of us, and more to our liking?

It’s never happened that way for me.  What happens for me is that I get myself worked up into enough of a lather, enough things break or malfunction or trip me up (literally), that I eventually have no choice but to surrender to the reality of the situation.  This elevator is not f-ing coming, and so I had either better take the stairs or find something interesting to read while I wait, because I am going to be here for a while.  And when that happens, when I’m able to snap my little internal control freak in half, then things open up.  Suddenly the line doesn’t move so slowly, the machine-operators don’t seem so incompetent, and before I know it, I’m sitting on my plane.  Happily engrossed by the in-flight magazine…waiting to take off.

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