I began this morning reading an excerpt in Harper’s from Alain de Botton’s new book, A Week at the Airport, written about his stint as Heathrow’s poet laureate. I remember the concept making news at the time, and thinking how delighted I would be if I landed in a country and discovered that even its airport had its own poet.
The book, if this section is anything to go by, will delight me just as much, and move me, too.
I travel frequently and I find it such a strange intersection of pampering and deprivation. I can provide myself with a stack of magazines and an iPod playlist, my powder compact and Kiehl’s lip balm and a glass of wine, but I am powerless to reach my husband and my cats.
I once sat in the departure lounge at LAX talking to my father on my cell phone and hearing the news that he’d had a hospital bed moved into the living room. I knew he wanted to die at home; I hadn’t known, until then, that it would be before the end of the month.
Since I am a very privileged person, I could at least get myself a packet of kleenex and a Starbucks coffee, and I could chat with my boss, who told me that on my return I could take time out of the office to help care for my dad.
This privilege helped immensely, but could not change the fact that right then, I was still on the other side of the continent and my flight had been delayed. I felt simultaneously powerless and blessed beyond deserving.
So today I read this, from de Botton, about being greeted at arrivals, and it undid me a bit:
“Even if our loved ones have assured us that they will be busy at work, even if they told us they hated us for going traveling in the first place, even if they left us last June or died twelve and a half years ago, it is impossible not to experience a shiver of a sense that they may have come along anyway, just to surprise us and make us feel special (as someone must have done for us when we were small, if only occasionally, or we would never have had the strength to make it this far).”