Monday, July 18, 2011


This week I’ve been cleaning out my files. It’s a task I’ve been putting off, not because of the time, labor and tedium involved, but because of the emotions that surface as I sort through the previous chapters of my life.

Amid the usual flotsam of domestic paperwork – bills, receipts, pay stubs, manuals, medical paperwork and the like – I unearth business cards proffered after chance conversations, tickets to events I’ve attended and enjoyed and programs from the funeral services of friends.

I sit cross-legged on the floor among the papers, remembering.

Sloughing through a stack of old bills I find boarding passes, postcards from family members and photos that didn’t make the cut for the album, but were somehow worth saving.

I scan newspaper clippings of stories I found interesting enough to keep, and sometimes find them interesting again. I find birthday cards from friends and love notes in wobbly writing from my sweet 6-year-old.

Should I save these things? Will I remember them without the visual cues they provide?

I started this project to offload some ballast; to remain within my baggage allowance. I’ve been telling myself that I don’t need papers to remember people by; that my mind is a good enough filing cabinet for my memories.

But after the culling is done and the bags have been taken out, I’m left with things I can’t bring myself to part with. The stack is smaller now; it doesn’t tilt so precariously. And though some of the items are starting to fade, the foundation they provide will be firm, I feel: strong enough to support the next chapter.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Wright Stuff

This summer my son will cover thousands of miles without setting foot on the ground. He’ll visit family in California with his father and in England with me on trips that will take him roughly halfway around the world.

My head has been in the clouds since I took him to the airport for the first leg of his journey this morning. I am waiting like any/every mother to hear that he has arrived safely.

I am of two minds about all this air travel. Part of me bemoans the fact that our modern way of life has scattered families to the four winds. The other part of me acknowledges that without air travel, at least in my case, there would be no family to scatter.

My American father met my English mother at a party in London. Without air travel, their meeting and subsequent decision to marry would have been unlikely, at best.

I owe my very existence to air travel. Without it, my life melts away like clouds; like in the movie Back to the Future, where the children fade from the family photo as the parents bungle their initial encounter. No meeting of my parents = no me. No me = no son to fly between two families who would be unconnected by blood or marriage without us.

This thought hit me like a first-model flying machine in freefall when we took a family vacation to the Outer Banks of North Carolina a couple of years ago. Here, at Kitty Hawk, the Wright brothers made the first controlled, powered and sustained heavier-than-air human flight on Dec. 17, 1903.

Not much more than a century later, air travel is a well-established means of transportation. I have taken it for granted my whole life, and today I saw my son doing the same.

Standing on the sandy strip at the foot of the hill from which Orville and Wilbur Wright pushed off time and time again, determined to conquer the air, I found myself in tears.

I cried for the enormity of their accomplishment; for its unquestionable impact on my own life and on life in general. And I cried for its relentless inevitability.

Progress runs out to meet us on winged feet like Nike, the goddess of victory. And the past, that lovely, distant country, recedes before our eyes and is gone.

The phone rings. My son has landed.