I handed the smiling United Airlines woman my boarding pass, smiled back, and walked into the cold morning air. It was still dark, no hint yet of morning on the horizon. I was headed for the tiny propeller plane perched on the tarmac, the first of many flights that would land me in Quito, Ecuador. As I climbed the stairs, I took one last backward glance at the dark Portland sky and thought: “Here I go.”
The path to that plane was littered with a painful series of goodbyes. Nine months seems like an eternity to be away from everyone I love. As my last week in Portland started coming to a close, my mood swung wildly as I frantically tried to pack up and pack in everything I needed. I was starting to get nervous. I was starting to get sad.
Last night we had a family dinner and all my relatives were calling to say goodbye and good luck. I was feeling particularly overwhelmed when my mom reminded me to call my grandmother.
Grams-as we’ve always affectionately called her-is a tiny 92 year-old English woman with an easy laugh and no filter. She’ll speak about choir, dinner and sex all in the same tone of voice and without any reservation. She’s also the strongest person I know. She lost a father in World War I, a brother in World War II, a daughter in 2006 and has been another daughter’s number one advocate through her battle with paranoid schizophrenia.
She answered my call after the first ring, with a crisp but quiet, “Hello dear.” We talked for a few minutes and she told me about a book she’s reading. I was quiet and trying to keep my emotions in check. Goodbyes are not my strong suit. As our conversation finished, she took and breath and said:
“I am so proud of you Lizzie. Remember, that this is your life. You can make it however you want.”
And now, sitting waiting for my next flight, after lugging my 90 lbs of luggage through San Francisco, only to get denied my visa, I’m clinging to those words. Maybe part of going on a trip this big is feeling like you’re surrendering to it. You’re just along for the ride as you throw yourself in a completely new situation. The phrase, “whatever happens, happens!” gets tossed around constantly with travel. We are in fact slaves to lost luggage, delayed flights, or horrendous women at your local South American consulate. But when Grams said that, she reminded me quite simply that this is my trip, my choice, my life.
This is big, daunting and exciting as hell.