I left Houston, Texas on Wednesday, 14 September 2011 to head back to my passport country of England. As I’m writing this post 17 September, 2011, it’s clear that I’ve already made it safely through the sky and have spent a few days here in Eton Wick. I have a lot to say about that, because frankly, the experience I have whenever I arrive back in this small town in this little country is one that’s quite fascinating to me as a Third Culture Kid. That, however, will be a post for another day, because before I go into the depth and detail regarding what it’s like for a TCK to arrive in his or her passport country, I want to spend a little bit of time discussing my experiences in the sky.
Aeroplane (back to UK spelling now that I’m here, I suppose) flight has always been a wild and exciting experience for me. I’ve been doing it my entire life, since before I even had cognitive thought or higher level thinking. It has been a simple part of my existence, one that I became accustomed to long before I had any realization that many people on this planet do not enjoy sitting in those tightly packed seats and soaring through the air at 600mph (ground speed) at 28,000 ft. Flying has never really bothered me. Granted, since I have gotten taller, and at 5’11” I’m not exactly a giant, I don’t really like the lack of leg room, but the overall flight experience has never really been all that hampered by my size. I mean, to hop the atlantic takes around 8 hours from Houston, and I’ve sat in a desk at work longer than that, so I think I have it in me to remain seated and just suck it up.
The thing is, it’s difficult for me as a TCK and global nomad to really sum up what makes the flight experience so completely pleasant. It’s not just one thing, but a sum of all the little pieces that takes something that most people are completely terrified of and turns it into 8 hours of ecstasy for me. But honestly, it begins and ends with one simple thing: traveling across the world reignites a primal and instinctual sensation that has developed in all TCKs. It’s the very beginning of experiencing and adapting to a new culture. And though, at the time of our youth, almost all of us hated giving up our friends and jumping on a plane, as we have grown and matured we have learned to love the things we hated. Like brocoli or spinach was to our taste buds, we have found in our adulthood that the things that we hated really weren’t all that bad, and if we’d just taken the time to look at it a little closer, we would have seen how much healthier and stronger those things made us.
After the reignited glory of global travel has passed me by, the tiny little pieces of just being on a plane begin to kick in and continue the ongoing relaxation and bliss of flight. The sound of the engine humming in my ears is incredibly soothing. It calms my nerves and relieves all my stress. It’s like listening to a motivational tape where someone is constantly whispering how proud of you they are, forcing all that negative energy out of your body and calming your mind so that you are ready to do something incredible. The seats, though uncomfortable, are tiny little cubicles of personal space. Babies crying in the distance make me laugh, because even though everyone else is getting frustrated and annoyed, I know that once upon a time I was that little baby, and that baby may just find itself growing up in a world where it is constantly hopping on planes and traveling from country to country. It makes me smile because maybe, just maybe, that kid is on its first flight that it will never remember, but will one day look back on its life and think “my days of a TCK started there, on that flight I have no memory of, traveling across the Atlantic to England from Houston. That was where I started the journey of becoming the TCK I am today.”
The food is horrible, but there’s just something about it that makes me smile. It’s only two meals, and I’m in no way a picky eater after all the places I’ve been and some of the garbage I’ve eaten, so when I eat the bland and tasteless microwaved meal with my plastic knife and my plastic fork, I smile and think back on the days when planes had knives and forks that were made of metal, and people weren’t afraid of someone using that metal knife to kill a pilot and hijack a plane.
More than all those little things, though, it’s the people. The people are what make that flight so interesting. So many of them traveling as families, so many traveling alone. Some are going home to see loved ones, some are flying away for the start of a trip. Some are moving for good, and some are going on the holiday of their lives. Some are scared to death, and some are busy working away at their tray table. Some are happy and full of joy, and some are on the brink of tears missing the people they love and will not see again for what could be days, or months, or years… or maybe even forever. And I sit and watch, and listen, and talk to no one as I pick up all the tiny pieces of all the lives that surround me, and I am filled with joy for those that are happy, and I ache for those that are sad, because I know that every single time I have sat on a plane, I have at one point in my life experienced each and every one of those emotions that are raging around me.
And then it all comes to a close, and you touchdown in another country and pass through immigration and collect your bags, and then you walk through those double doors into the arrivals terminal, and there they all are, the sea of countless people waiting with smiles on their faces unmatched by any kind of joy you’ve ever seen. And children run up to their parents and wrap their arms around each other, and lovers kiss each other as though they’ve never loved a single person in all their lives but each other, and grandparents smile proudly as they pick up their kids and grand-kids. And then there’s the people like me, all alone walking through the terminal with no one to greet them, but happy all the same, despite anything else that’s happening in their life at the time. Because who would you be, standing in a sea of people filled with so much joy to be around each other, and not want to stop whatever it was that you had to do, if only for a minute, and see what pure and total human joy looks like. And if you’ve ever wanted to know what true happiness looks like, there’s the answer: Go stand in the arrivals terminal of any international airport. Only then will you truly understand just how beautiful this world can be.
Post by: James R. Mitchener