A bit over 10 years ago, I was traveling so much for business that Delta paid for my favorite pair of earrings, purchased from Tiffany’s.
I made Delta’s “elite” Platinum status a couple of years in a row, and as a reward, I got to choose between receiving extra miles (more flights? no, thanks…), a $100 Tiffany’s gift card, and a few other rewards.
If you know me at all, you’re already laughing — as if I’d choose anything other than the jewelry credit.
Of course, I was too busy to actually get to Tiffany’s to use the credit, so I ended up with a couple of $100 rewards. Just enough to pay for some beautiful, large, square sterling hoops.
Business growth aside, those hoops are my favorite travel outcome from those years. I wear them a few times a week.
Not long after the purchase, I woke up one morning and wasn’t sure where I was. I looked at the dust bunnies in the corner of the room and the fine coat of dust on the lampshade and wondered why the housekeeping was so shoddy. And then I realized I was in my own bedroom. I was the shoddy housecleaner.
I decided that was my signal that I needed to dial the travel back a bit, and so I started spending more time in Atlanta.
I was just post-divorce, and home was my dad’s house since I hadn’t had time between business trips to do anything other than dump my belongings and get back to the airport. I had half-planned to move to Wyoming, but…
Being home more meant that I spent time with my dad and discovered some oddities that eventually led to his Alzheimer’s diagnosis. I decided that we should make some moments of joy for him and memories for me, so we traveled for fun as often as we could over the next three years.
And then my dad had a fall that almost killed him. Six months later, he was admitted to home hospice care, and our days of traveling together were over.
I stayed at home as much as I could while he was in hospice, flying only a couple of times a year, and resumed only a light flight schedule after his death in 2017. No more elite status, no more Tiffany’s gift cards.
Even so, I was still a road warrior. TSA Pre-Check? Check. Better still, Clear and its biometric identity authentication, which meant I never needed to pull my driver’s license from my wallet. I could pack my luggage and be out the door within 30 minutes. As soon as a plane would taxi away from the gate, I’d nod off, soothed just like an infant in a moving car.
And then came 2020.
I flew home from a conference on February 17, 2020.
My next flight was April 13, 2021.
Of course, in that year between flights, COVID-19 brought the world nearly to a halt. Even when others were beginning to peek out, I hibernated in my new home in Cheyenne, seeing only my honey, grateful that I’d met him since my only other “friend” in town was my real estate agent.
And then 2021. With spring came vaccinations and the option for travel deemed safe by the CDC.
I decided to fly back to Atlanta.
Nervous but prepared, I was delighted to find myself feeling comfortable in a window seat toward the front of the plane. I dozed during takeoff, as usual, and then spent most of the flight working, glancing out the window only as we were in the final approach into Atlanta.
We flew over downtown, a sight that never fails to thrill my native-Atlantan heart.
And then we flew over the spring trees. Bands of bright, vibrant green, dotted with clumps of darker green pine trees and a few clusters of dogwood white. Roads and buildings broke up nature’s view, but green dominated the landscape for as far as I could see.
For the first time in more than a year, I was literally able to see the forest and not the individual trees.
I’d spent months and months and months tracking the breaking news, all bad, and wondering whether and when and how things might get better. The health worries, the political angst, the grief for those who had been hurt or killed because of their race or ethnicity, the grief for people I loved who’d died and were memorialized only privately, the grief for losing the way we all used to live with so many fewer worries and less fear, the grief for the more than 500,000 people who’d died with COVID, the grief… the grief… the grief.
I found myself silently weeping as the plane swept over the trees.
I hate crying in public. I now know that I hate crying in public in a mask even more. Rather than giving cover, the mask makes it impossible to quietly wipe eyes and nose. Somehow it both covers and highlights what I would prefer to hide.
The older woman sitting in the aisle seat cleared her throat. During boarding, we’d nodded and exchanged the crinkled eyes that substitute for a masked smile, but no words.
“Your first time?” She inquired softly, non-intrusively.
“Yes,” I managed to squeeze out through my constricted throat, “since last winter. I didn’t expect to have this reaction.”
She nodded, reached out to touch my arm, but then pulled back. “No. We didn’t expect any of this, did we? I hope we never forget.”
As the plane touched down and braked, the flight attendant welcomed us to Atlanta. “Be kind,” she said. “Be generous. Be positive. Just don’t test positive.”
Amen, I thought. Amen and amen.