Taking Flight

9 Mar

This is a continuation of the series I started last week

The six weeks prior to my departure passed in a whirlwind of frenetic activity. I had never traveled internationally by myself, and I had assumed that all I had to do was book the tickets, pack a bag, and show up at the airport two hours before the flight was scheduled to leave.

I had not factored in things like getting my passport renewed, undergoing the requisite medical screening, obtaining foreign currency, getting travel insurance, and visiting with friends and family to say my goodbyes. I could barely find the time to pack.

Packing was an ordeal in and of itself. Cramming all of my essential belongings into checked baggage did not turn out to be easy. Of course, now that I am a seasoned traveler, my idea of what is actually “essential” has changed dramatically. But back then, the list of things that I just had to take was staggering (most of these items would end up getting jettisoned over the course of my travels).

My Mom tearfully helped me pack. Her sadness was, I think, twofold. There was the normal Mom’s angst about the prospect of saying goodbye to a daughter who was bound for a faraway land and didn’t know when she was returning. And there was the fact that the last time I had left home for any length of time, I had come back damaged and jaded. She implored me not to make any stupid decisions. If you get into trouble, she said, just get on a plane and come home.

Before I knew it, the day had arrived. My parents got me to the airport four hours prior to departure time. I was flying El Al: the Israelis, being understandably nervous about who and what they were letting onto their planes, had a rigourous screening procedure years before 9/11. They made me light one of my cigarettes (I was a smoker in those days), take a picture with my camera (using the flash), and make my alarm clock go off. I got questioned at length as to why I was wearing my blue fedora-style hat and whether I had purchased the contents of my luggage myself.

Eventually, me and my luggage were deemed fit to board the plane. I had a final cup of coffee with my parents, and then, when it was time to go, they hugged me fiercely and tried to fight back tears. I waved at them until I could no longer see them, although I knew they would stay at the airport until after my plane had departed. As I found my way to the boarding gate, I pictured my Dad with his arm around my Mom’s shoulders, comforting and being comforted. I felt my chest constrict with anguish at what I had put my parents through, and for a moment I had the urge to turn back.

I resolutely continued. I needed to do this. I knew it in my gut, and I believe that my parents knew it too. I had lost myself over the last few years, and I needed to spread my wings and give myself the space to find my way back through the woods.

In the departure lounge, I found myself chatting with someone called Wayne, who like me, was traveling on the Kibbutz program. He asked me what had prompted me to go, and I told him that I needed to get away from some bad stuff that had happened. “Same here,” he told me.

At boarding time, we joined the line at the departure gate. Further screening ensued (really ahead of the curve on airline security, the Israelis), and we got through the chaos of boarding only to discover that our assigned seats were beside each other. Neither Wayne nor I could possibly know, at that point, that this was the beginning of a wonderful friendship that would still be enduring almost two decades later.

At the moment of take-off, I pictured my parents standing at the big glass windows in the airport terminal, watching and waving, and wishing me Godspeed as the plane lifted into the air and disappeared into the night sky.

(Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/10037058@N08/2779012499)

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