I don’t remember the day I lost it, but I have been searching for it everywhere for at least two years. I’ve pored over the pages of old books and handwritten love letters, searched the overhead compartment where things may shift during takeoff and landing, and found stillness on my sweat-soaked yoga mat, thinking I’d find it hiding playfully in one of those places. Hours gazing up into the inky night sky, straining to find it there among the infinite stars, haven’t revealed its whereabouts. I even searched the delicately crafted space between the strings of an acoustic guitar, and all I found were tear-stained memories, songs that betrayed my trust, and a splintered bridge.
Where did it go? Why did it vanish without a clue or warning? How could I have lost it? Perhaps it all started when I put it in a safe place to protect it. My courage to be as much sound as picture, heart as head, written as spoken has been imperiled by a world chasing appearance over substance, and my voice has fallen silent under its dusty shadow.
As a commissioned wordsmith, I spend most days writing, alone for hours; and in my solitude, I’ve grown shy. I walk along city streets and read the stories of people’s lives in their steps, in their eyes, and in the impatient ends that tug at their leashes. Each day, I break for yoga and with every focused bend and bow, my spine grows more flexible while my stoicism tempers. Every temporary escape ends in return, so even the airport is more a revolving door than a window to the sky. And so I’ve traded words for tears when the sun goes down, for my eyes cannot contain the lava that runs hot under the surface.
There is so much inside, and no courage with which to share it.
Recently my brother dropped me off at the airport for my first trip of 2015. I hugged him like always, and as he drove away I approached my usual portal, door 601, near the priority check-in desk. And there began the delays. My yoga practice has taught me a few good lessons, one of which is to breathe stillness into chaos such that the breath gives birth to calmness. Where better to practice yoga than at the airport? Right. Nowhere.
In the middle of my peaceful ticketing counter breathing exercise, a huge black bag of sports equipment and its ball-cap-wearing travel companion appeared in the line next to me. The three of us waited patiently to be noticed, tagged and ticketed. We communed on the point.
He confirmed the bag contained skis. I confirmed that I fly often. This and that. Here and there. He lives by the ocean. I live by the mountains. The agents called for back-up again. His flight was going west; mine, east. I write. He does, too, when he’s not seeking adventure. We exchanged cards because that’s what friendly writers do at backed-up ticketing counters in airports. “Nice to meet you,” he said, as he shook my hand with a grip that suggested he not only skis down mountains, but moves them around with his bare hands, too. Soon, my bag was tagged, and I was free to breathe into the next phase of air travel chaos. In the time it took for me to step past him in the direction of the gate, his ocean-blue eyes drowned time and sound, and held mine like a secret. “See you later. Good luck.”
A European race car designer and I exchanged niceties in the security line, while his sunburned wife chimed in silently from behind peeling cheeks. Her rhinestone “skitini” t-shirt told me the entire story about their snowy sojourn in Colorado. Once at the gate, I learned that my flight was delayed, so I set out to write, and maybe even to find my voice this time.
“I like your hat. Where’d you get a hat like that?” a bow-legged Texan struck up a conversation with me like a match on his zipper. I learned about his son attending school in Portland, his many Alaskan fishing trips, and his well-stocked arsenal of well-rehearsed pick-up lines. The 65+ year old Don Juan continued, “You sure do have pretty hair there, sweetheart.” … “I was going to get a drink. Would you have a drink with me?”
“Thank you for the invitation, but I have a lot of work I really must get done before I leave the ground,” I responded. That I had work to do was true, but when it needed to be done was quite flexible. “Don’t you go anywhere. I’m coming back and I expect you to be here so we can talk some more,” he said. Naturally I eyed the area for an escape route. Just then, the fellow from the ticketing desk messaged me, “… my flight is delayed so I’m gonna have a drink if you wanna join me.”
Yes. I think I’ll go have a drink of those time-stopping, ocean-blue eyes.
We talked more about skiing and other outdoor adventures, books, travel, the Texan Don Juan sitting at the bar, and writing. Ahh, writing. I inquired of this writer about that which he writes, and his answer was a diving board bouncing under my bare feet above a cool, deep pool. Stories, thoughts, experiences … his memoir. At least he knows where his is—his courageous voice—because a writer whose courage is lost can’t craft such a thing. “What inspires you to share so much?” I asked.
He easily shrugged, and calmly squared his gaze to my inquiry: because life is short, and I love doing it. Just then, I remembered where I might have left it: where thieves can’t strike and rust can’t rot, where an exposed sternum isn’t a pincushion for an unrelenting dagger. Could it be possible that not all loves are unrequited? Could the love of writing with truth, heart, and trust only increase and return with each incremental word? As a professional wordsmith, one would surmise I know the answer, but writing of one’s own sentiments is quite different than writing of her profession. Writing about matters of the heart is an act of the soul, and not of the pen.
This warm-spirited and well-mannered man with sun-soaked hair and splashing blue eyes ignited a spark of inspiration in my chest. He smiled a handsome smile and toasted—his beer and my espresso—to what, I wish I could remember. Perhaps it was a toast to an enchanting encounter in an unexpected place, around imperfect conditions, during uncertain times and without the remotest of preparation or presumption. Or maybe it was just because life is short, and something sweet happened in the unlikely crossing of two trajectories that was worth celebrating.
In the end, I found it there in the eyes of a stranger. Perhaps it’s sharing a story that makes the story of courage.