Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Auntie Em! Auntie Em!

There's no place like home.
There's no place like home.
There's no place like home.
But I love to travel.
I do. I get a silly grin on my face when my plane picks up speed while heading down the runway, like some absurd people get when a roller coaster is about to plummet over the tip of the arch.
I love airports. They fascinate me, especially larger ones. Currency exchange, restaurants named for city celebrities, moving walkways, and standing in your socks while someone xrays your toothpaste. I always expect to see someone I haven't seen in years in airports. I never do. I also always expect to see someone famous. I never do. But it's the thought that counts, and somehow I always feel inspired when I travel through an airport. Maybe it's the buzz from extra expensive Starbucks that I can't pass up while waiting for a flight, or maybe it's the feeling that I am One of the Lucky Ones who gets to browse novelty spoons in the gift shop while other people drive their daily commute.
I've known people who have never traveled outside their county. How well one must know a county having spent a lifetime in it - a whole theology of place opens up when one realizes that mass travel is a relatively recent phenomenon. It used to take months - and a lot of money - to travel, instead of a whim, a website and a photo id. One made plans, packed steamer trunks, gave significant good-byes, boarded a ship and spent months sailing around continents. No "wish you were here" postcards in those days. And money - the only way a "commoner" could travel was as a) indentured servant b) servant c) slave dragged from home to faraway place (both from Africa and from Genesis...remember Joseph?) There was no Discovery channel specials on native rituals in Ghana or tribal practices in the Amazon. There were only vague stories from British troops having globetrotted the Empire, or books written by Rudyard Kiplings. Reading old British novels, one notices that characters are always detected as well-traveled by their tans.
Even now, in slightly more controversial territory, travel is difficult for the disenfranchised. If one wishes to move to the United States in search of work to support his family, he must pay expensive bribes to bureaucratic officials, wait long periods of time, or pay someone to smuggle him over the border. We in the United States forget that you don't have to bribe every government official of every office for every stamp and signature. Most the world over, that is not the case. It gets very expensive, and time consuming.
In North America, we have the freedom to travel about our own country, and others, without filling out extensive paperwork detailing our every movement as Communist regimes have demanded in other places, in other times. I may drive to Indiana if I wish without filling out a travel visa. I may fly to Ireland with a passport but no other questions asked.
Freedom, and disposable income, and Howard Hughes' OCD improvement of flight have opened new gateways to the heavens so that we may come back to earth again in a different place, a different time zone.
Last week I worked at a nursing home in Activities - last week, by the way, was National Nursing Home Week, replete with events daunting even for the seasoned recreational professional. Last week, our little facility was turned into a cruise ship, complete with stop in Italy (read constructed two Italian restaurants, art galleries and a first century chapel in Rome), Captain's Gala (read ballroom with full working fountain and disco ball in center, residents bedecked in formal evening attire in their wheelchairs, dressed to The Nines), Mexican Market (straw on the floor, burlap covered stalls, quesadillas and, as my boss put it...."authentic Mexicans." No, she does not win the Politically Correct Award of the Year.)
In the midst of last week - last week at the nursing home - I was sick. As in, this is the biggest week of our year and I am sicker than a dog. As in, hook me up to the IV and cart me away, please. Round three of antibiotics, prednisone, nasal sprays, sinus medication and finally prescription cough medicine to boot. It was Not Pretty. I finally smeared Mary Kay Satin Lips lip balm on my nose to heal its chapped condition. Note: Satin Lips lip balm is a wonderful, wonderful nose balm. So I missed the Mexican Market because I was at home wishing I was at the hospital. (boss read this as lack of commitment. on the other hand, she also had to reconcile herself to the fact that her dream of bringing in a live burro and chickens to the market was not feasible.note: Mexican market was in the dining room, in the presence of food preparation, in addition to the fact that many of our residents have experience in wringing chickens necks and sometimes get confused about where they are.)
In the midst of traveling through the week medicated out the hoohaw and working a twelve hour day on Tuesday to let the residents "travel" to Italy and the Captain's Gala, I had a problem.
I was sick. It was cruise week at the nursing home. And I was scheduled to fly to Chicago to see dear, dear friends Thursday night.
I spent all day Wednesday and Thursday blowing my nose and wishing I was in the hospital and sounding like I had emphysema. Thursday my doctor looked more worried than ever, shone light in my face and ears and felt my glands and continued more gladiator antibiotics and warrior prednisone and repeated slowly and carefully instructions about air travel in this condition. Frankly, at that point the only thing that made me go was my nonrefundable ticket and the assurance that if I was going to be miserable on the couch, it may as well be friends' couch in Chicago.
I flew. I traveled. I slept Friday. I rested and blew my nose some more. I slept. Saturday we walked around the city and I remembered what it was to feel human. I slept some more. Sunday I flew home. I slept fifteen hours Sunday night. I rested Monday and let the good guys in my system duke it out with the bad guys.
And Tuesday, Tuesday, I got the good news.
I have a new job.
The cyclone of last week picked me up off a cruise ship, flew me through Chicago and landed me in a completely different place. I will miss my nursing home residents. I will go back and visit Oz, where there are strange smells and sounds and disoriented people wanting to know how they will get home. I wish I could offer them a pair of ruby slippers. I wish it were that easy. Instead, I smile, I offer comfort, I let them know they're not alone. Comforting the aging is a lot like being a tin man or a scarecrow or even a lion - most of the good is done simply by traveling with someone, letting one know that she is not alone, and that kindness is meant towards her.
I am in a different place now - I still live in the same house, but I find my mind, my soul in a different place, and I find myself uncomfortable with my freedom. I can leave. My elderly friends cannot. And yet I think many of them would say that to have the freedom to travel and move on is precisely what I must not waste. I will correspond with Oz, I will return from time to time.
But for now -
There's no place like home.
There's no place like home.
There's no place like home.

2 comments:

Bob said...

I'm glad you have a new job and that it worked out with such good timing. I know you will be happy in your new job and that you will do very well at it. Love you lots---Daddy

Carrie said...

So, what is your new job, and is it taking you to the Windy City?