I’m expecting that one of these days I will become clever enough (especially as I regularly do my Lumosity games) to avoid getting blind-sided. But it hasn’t happened yet. It’s not fair. I have worked hard over the years to figure things out, and to construct an accurate view of the world—which admittedly supports the choices I’ve made.
One of the great disadvantages of travel is that it rattles this carefully-designed world view.
Last week I left Mitchells Island on a 26 degree (Celsius) day, travelled over 13,000 kilometres to Edmonton, Alberta, the area where I spent the first thirty years of my life, and mentally prepared for landing in minus-26 degree weather. No doubt there would be some shock to the system, but as a seasoned veteran of Canadian winters, I know the drill. I can handle cold weather. So, on arrival, I pulled my little suitcase off the luggage carousel, opened it and piled on most of what I’d brought with me. I topped it with my Australian raincoat, put some socks on my hands and headed out the door. I walked across the road with Rick to the passenger pick-up spot where our friend would be meeting us. Then I turned around, crossed the road again (possibly without even checking for traffic) and headed back into the terminal. It had taken less than a minute for the cold to reach my bone marrow and threaten my life. Had I gotten hopelessly soft, or just lost all clue of how to handle cold weather? Either way, it was a shock.
So much for the careful planning. Strike one for my view of reality.
The next blind-side was more visual.
Flying in, I was appalled at the desolation of the landscape. Where there were acres of coniferous trees, the countryside was a dull green/black. Where there were cultivated fields, all was white. Black and white, black and white everywhere, with a smattering of grey and brown. Not a red tile roof to be seen, not a bright green tree, not a blue lake. From my seat 30,000 feet in the sky, I passed judgment on the land below. If we were an explorer crew, I said to myself, making a landing on a far away planet after light-years of travel (and admittedly the flight from Australia does seem a bit like that), this first look at our new world would be a bitter disappointment.
But later, as I watched my breath while standing on a pristine white lawn…as tiny black and grey and white chickadees danced around the bird feeder…as my daughter in her leather boots and long black coat strode across the street towards me…as a weak lemony sun lumbered low across a pale blue sky…as I sat in my sister-in-law’s sitting room and watched snowflakes catch on the spiky branches of the leafless trees—I remembered the astonishing austere beauty of the prairie winters. It’s the same reason I love black-and-white photography. Understated messages and shapes reach your eye and there’s plenty of room for the imagination to find deeper meaning.
It’s a land of subtle beauty in an unsubtle climate. It’s also a land of courage. I’d forgotten that.
And then there was my niece’s wedding. Weddings are always emotional affairs—there’s something about the rite of passage where responsibility for a successful life shifts from the family home to a new and trusting partnership. I adore my niece April and was happy to tolerate the climate blind-sides in order to participate in her wedding. But then, just as the ceremony was about to begin, I noticed a semi-familiar face a couple of tables over. It was an old friend of my brother’s. My best girlfriend all through twelve years of school lived a mile away from our family home, and she had a little brother exactly the same age as my little brother—and those two were also best friends. They remained good friends over the years. But the thing is, my brother’s friend was here at the wedding and my brother wasn’t. A few weeks ago, in my post on ageing, I included a quote to the effect that “getting old is better than the alternative”. Well, my brother had experienced the alternative, dying at age 48 when his daughters were still in their teens. Staring at his old friend, I realised the thing that what was profoundly missing at this wedding—my brother. His daughter was getting married and he wasn’t here to witness it.
Paul was the epitome of a family man. He was a doting dad and a sentimentalist, and this event was tailor-made for him. He would have grumbled and teased and had his heart pierced with pride. But he wasn’t here to bask in it. After the ceremony the bride, my lovely niece, came up to give me a huge hug and let me inspect the dress. She also showed me her “something-old”: the tiniest of lockets with her father’s picture in it, worn around her ankle, so that he could walk down the aisle with her.
So, it’s been an emotional week, laden with little traps to catch me unawares and mischievously puncture my carefully shaped certainties about how the world works. All in all, a little humbling. All in all, quite exciting.
In hindsight, I recommend a little time out of one’s comfort zone. The view is extraordinary.