At the airport on the last leg of what had turned into a three-flight, 15-hour day, we arrived at our final gate. We had to change airlines and it was a hike from the United terminal to the less glittering American terminal. There, in the white chairs that had a distinctly ’70s feel to them, we plopped our backpacks and fanned out the boarding tickets, the five of us choosing once more between aisle and window. It was our first airplane trip together – Chris, me, and our three kids – and though we’d gotten through the week together fairly well, there was also a sense of relief that we were nearly home.
In the seating area at our gate was an elderly woman in a wheelchair who was accompanied by a short man who was younger than her though it was hard to tell by how much. A younger husband? An eldest child? Neither would have surprised me. They were in the same zoned out waiting space as we were, until a tall man – he looked a bit like the basketball player Samuel Perkins – and a short woman with a severe bun appeared and the mood suddenly changed. The foursome exclaimed and hugged and took pictures in every possible configuration–the tall man and the wheelchair-bound woman; the two women; the three eldest; etc. The older woman had to rise repeatedly from her wheelchair for the photos, while the tall man had to stoop to fit into the frame.
I kept wondering what their relationship was to each other and how they came to meet at the airport. They were all flying because we were at a gate, beyond security. But they weren’t all flying on the same plane as the older couple boarded with us and the tall man and the woman with the bun did not. And the younger couple were only carrying enormous bags of Garrett’s Popcorn, that Chicago staple. Was it a chance meeting or had they planned it?
I was standing, watching them, and doing what I like to think of as “subtle yoga”–stretching in relatively circumspect ways–when an older African American stewardess with grey spiky hair and smartly dressed in a navy blazer and wide legged pants came striding toward our area. She had a wool coat draped over one hand and was pulling a carry-on suitcase with the other. She walked directly up to a younger blonde stewardess sitting behind me, dropped her coat, and embraced the woman. The two of them hugged in a kind of way that spoke of a life event — someone had died, someone had gotten engaged, something needed to be marked. For a moment, I thought they would pull apart and laugh at their drama, but instead, they held on longer. The younger woman blinked back tears. They moved back into the shadows and stood forehead to forehead, the older woman’s hands on the other woman’s shoulders – whispering to each other. After ten minutes, the blonde woman walked across the hall and started to do her job – calling people to board, taking tickets. Once we were in the air, she served me a plastic cup of water in my perch at 12D. I wanted so badly to ask her about her friend and that remarkable hug, but I just took the water and smiled.
When we finally got home and did all of the necessary things – greeted the dog, sorted the mail – I laid in bed perusing cooking blogs. I was exhausted and yet awake from the movement of the day — the flying the airports, the luggage, the people — and reading about food to start my year on a nourishing note seemed as calming as anything. The trouble was that I kept finding blogs that were written by perky, self-promoting women. Women who were intentionally cultivating a voice and a look that they deemed worthy of minor celebrity. Voices that might merit future sponsorship by Kraft. I just wanted a recipe, not a personality. And if there was a persona, give me MFK Fisher, not someone who introduced herself with a quiver of exclamation points: “Hi! I’m Beth!”
It was with relief that I read a woman explaining why, after relative blogging success, she was cooking whatever the hell she wanted: “… in the past few years, I have felt myself pulled toward pleasing. Querulous crowds demanded soft white sandwich bread so we made it again, again and again, until we were happy with it. And now that I’ve figured out the secret? I never make it here. Instead, I’m working on a dark, whole-grain bread that’s a little lumpy because it’s filled with seeds and chia. It doesn’t look airy and fantastic. It’s European bread, dense and nutritious. I don’t eat bread that often anymore but when I do, I like this little dark nub of a bread. It won’t look good on Pinterest. Can I confess something? I don’t really like Pinterest.”
What utter relief. There – out in the open – the raw truth. We aren’t all looking for the cutest top to match the perfectly pedicured voice. We aren’t all hoping for our moment on the cooking channel – or what ever our medium’s equivalent is.
Fresh from reading a long article in The Atlantic about the demise of the artist in lieu of the creative entrepreneur, I was especially relieved to find this comrade – someone sick of Pinterest (and Twitter and Instagram and whatever else has been thought up in the last five minutes). Being creative has become synonymous not with plumbing the world’s stories, but with endlessly promoting one self. It’s a full-time job simply thinking about how to loudly trumpet the work that you might do, the work that you do with one eye toward how it will appear to different audiences and how it might attract a following. The work has become the dance of promotion. The other stuff, the writing and the singing and the dancing, feels increasingly secondary.
I want to know about those reunions in the airport – about what brought each of those people to O’Hare last night and how they knew the people they were looking at so tenderly. I wish I knew what stories they are each telling themselves today, this new year day, about their too brief connection in the American Airlines terminal, just down the hall from the Auntie Ann’s Pretzel shop. I want to know how we touch each other and how we hold each other – hold in love and devotion, despite time and space, despite differences of age and skin color. I want to know what is still worthwhile to type – or photograph, or play, or dance – that might help any of us to love each other better. Learning how to add a Pinterest button to my blog feels wholly without use.