past life

Sometimes the only clarity you get occurs at 35,000 feet. Over patchwork corn fields and roadways carved through pine forests somewhere in Pennsylvania. When state lines are indistinguishable and you believe every big river you cross is the Mississippi. It’s during these moments when wedged between the window and an armrest that I actually consider where I am going.

I am not sure what it is about 3,000 miles and an additional 35,000 feet that makes it an appropriate time to reflect on your life. While I know exactly where I’m coming from, what is it that I am rushing towards at 600 mph? It’s usually after the first beverage cart rolls by that I begin considering whether I am on the right path. And not just the destination stamped on my ticket. But somewhere between New York state and Michigan I ponder whether I am really getting anywhere in the end.

I moved to California nearly 5 years ago for a change. I was nearing a breakdown living in Boston – a city I loved so much – and loved so much I had to leave it before I stopped. So I accepted a last minute job offer in the Bay Area, wrote the biggest I’m sorry letter to a newspaper in New Hampshire, and bought a ticket to a city I had never visited. And that feels like a lifetime ago.

In my past life I found love. Or something that resembled it. It was a life I enjoyed. But looking back, a life that I can’t believe was ever mine.

That life recently appeared uninvited and unannounced at my door two weeks ago. It showed up in severe capital letters in my mailbox and email. Told me I will always be its niece’s favorite and confessed it lacked good judgment when it left me. I’m grateful I already had my ticket booked to go home when my past life came back to visit.

It’s funny how it takes returning home – or at least the place where your mom lives – to remind you of where you’ve been, how far you’ve come, and much farther still you have to go. I come from a family that grows tomatoes. A family that mows its own lawns and each others when the day comes when they no longer can. A family of firm handshakes, grandmothers that know more about baseball and faith than anyone I’ve ever met, and an affection for lost souls. And whiskey.

I barely talked about my past life with my mom. I just sat on our back porch and drank good wine, watched Sox games on the local channels, played with the dog, and went on long runs by the Merrimack River. I considered – ever so briefly – getting my PhD in something, becoming a mediocre academic, and moving to Vermont to become a second rate lecturer at a small college where I run between classes.

After visiting the old people in my life I boarded a plane, ate my last Dunkin Donut, and looked out the window at New England towns I’ve never visited, towns I wouldn’t recognize even if I had, and felt that another change is about to happen. And this time I don’t feel the need to pack up and move to another time zone to experience it. Just maybe across the city.

I didn’t recall ever seeing the wind turbines we passed over on the flight back to San Francisco. I don’t think they were there when I first flew to the West Coast. The landscape is changing, and I am too. While I do not quite understand why this flight was different from those I made in my past life, I do know that I am finally getting somewhere. And I am returning to a city of new friends and old. A city that at least for now, I am happy to return to after exploring roadways and towns unknown.

6 thoughts on “past life

  1. Intriguing.

    I often find that some of my best, and most-life-changing decisions are made at 35,000 feet. I suppose it is the enforced reflection time – we live our lives at 600 mph metaphorically, and sometimes it is only when you are at 600 mph literally that nearly everything else becomes impossible (no phones, stuck in a seat, etc.) that you begin to properly reflect (although I’ve found blogging to create a similar ability to reflect).

    It’s probably good that you captured the thoughts in a blog post, since once your back on the ground life will continue to rush by, – maybe it’s important to you to make sure that you follow through on some of these thoughts.

  2. I think you’re onto something Matt. It may be the forced time of reflection. You are kind of a captive audience to your own thoughts. I find that I engage the most with my surroundings, acquaintances and myself when I turn off my cell phone and participate in the life that is rushing by at 600 mph. I’m going to try it more often.

  3. Traveling at 600 mph at 35,000 feet is liberating for your thoughts. One can even imagine going someplace not listed as that on the boarding pass. People used to say “you can never go home again” I think it was some famous author that I probably read for 7th grade an eon ago. Then I found that the saying was just BS…you can always go where you are loved for yourself, and not for someone you think you might want to be. Families don’t judge even when they’re as “dysfunctional” as your best friends. I don’t particularly buy into the concept of dysfunctional families…I think we’re all wacky in some way. I bet even the Von Trapps were weird when they weren’t singing in the hills…wait a minute, who said singing in the Austrian hills, or Vermont’s, is normal? Traveling at 600 mph is not harmful…it’s the sudden stop that can hurt.

  4. I agree with you completely Dinosaur. I think you can go home again. I do regularly thanks to Jetblue and whiskey at the airport bar.

  5. Funny timing, this post… since I have just traveled back home & will be here for at least 2 years…

    But it got me thinking about a conversation I had just a few days ago about life coming full circle, but different. You find yourself back in a similar situation – only better prepared and not terrified of what is in front of you. I think the 20s are about experiencing things and figuring out what DOESN’T work… and you end those years fired up to go get what it is you DO want (only you still need to clarify what that is! LOL).

    So good luck!!

  6. Kat,

    You are so wise. I wish I was there for your conversation about life coming full circle. And I think you are right about the 20s being the age of experimentation and failure. But in a good way. I have found a plethora of things that don’t work for me. But I’m still hoping I find that fire you are talking about. Anyhow, I’m excited you have found yours and will do great things. I know this.

    Now … for some clarity. Maybe I need to book a longer flight next time.

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