There is a Japanese saying that if the going is easy, the coming home is usually scary. I should have paid more attention.
Actually, the day began quite well. Though the airport was packed, our assigned guide found us our gate and waved us on our way. Security was a breeze—even the shoes stayed on. The plane arrived as it was supposed to arrive, and we boarded without a care in the world.
I believe that the malicious Fates rub their withered old hands when they see such foolish confidence in mortals. A confidence, sadly, that began to ebb as the plane sat motionless on the tarmac for half and hour… three quarters of an hour…
“We’re going to miss our connection,” I hissed to Mike, who said that we still had lots of time and not to worry. Not worry with France’s Air Controller’s strike just over? “What good would it do?” Asked my logical spouse .
Oh, yes, those Fates were having a fine old time. Our plane landed in Charles de Gaulle airport just as our connection to Atlanta was departing. And… where could we get another flight?
No one knew. Everyone pointed. Eventually, however, we arrived at a section called ‘Connecting Flights” where queues of anxious, bewildered passengers were milling about, pointing, gesticulating and muttering. Spotting a sign that told us that first, business, and preferred economy were welcome, we got in line. But… “The computers are down,” the youngish man ahead of us explained, then shrugged. “I have been waiting for an hour, already.”
He was a German businessman bound for Plainville, Indiana. “Nothing has moved during the time I’ve been here, and there is only one agent at the desk.”
A family of four had come to stand behind us. “You think that is bad,” huffed the Dad. “We left Switzerland this morning and have been in the air ten hours! First, the plane ran low on fuel, so it had to go to Orley to refuel. Then back to Charles de Gaulle… and then the plane went to the wrong gate! Of course we missed our flight…”
They were on their way to Kona, Hawaii. The children with them looked tired and anxious.
In front of the German businessman was a couple from Toronto. “We are on our honeymoon,” the woman confided in me.” We had such lovely reservations in Athens…” I consoled her that Paris wasn’t too bad a place to start a honeymoon. “Maybe so, something to talk about later,” she sighed.
Someone in another queue was shouting and cursing. We all looked at each other and shrugged. What good did that do? We began share experiences and to take bets on when the first person in our queue would move on. I offered to go and get drinks for anyone, handed out hand wipes and Tylenol. Suddenly, a stream of enraged Arabic filled the air, and an elderly lady in a wheelchair crashed the line.
Someone in our line sprinted forward to act as an interpreter. “Apparently,” he informed us when he returned, “she had a direct flight to Djibouti… and missed it. There is only one direct flight to Djibouti a week, but she doesn’t understand.”
We commiserated. Bad enough to be stuck in line, I said, but to be old, alone, wheelchair bound… and a family from Bulgaria, bound for home after a stay in Canada, agreed. “Quelle dommage,” commented the family matriarch. “Such a shame.”
Slowly, painfully, our line thinned. The honeymoon couple got their flight and a hotel to stay for the night, and we all applauded and sent them on their way with shouts of “Good luck!” and “Happy life!” The German businessman got a night flight but would have to stay in the airport in Toronto. Finally, it was our turn! When we got to the desk, I told the young woman there that she must be having an awful day. She rolled her eyes and smiled.
After some time we had a flight set for the next morning and were on a bus to the Magic Circus hotel which was brightly decorated with life sized Disney characters. I began to giggle. “Okay,” Mike yawned, “plain flying from now on.”
And the Fates chuckled most unpleasantly.
Next morning, back at Charles de Gaulle, our plane was once again late taking off. But, I reasoned, we will be in the US, and Atlanta isn’t far from North Carolina. Still, the old nervous system was cranking on high when we landed with forty minutes to go through immigration, get our baggage, clear customs, and race through security. Amazingly, it went quickly—and kind women ahead of us in the security line shouted, “These folks are trying to make their plane! Let them through!”
We rushed through the line, arrived in time to board—and didn’t. There was something wrong with the plane! We were falling asleep on our feet by the time we finally were allowed to board.
Home free! I thought. Fifty Five minutes to home! And the Fates—but you have heard all that before.
The plane sat on the tarmac for an hour and a half while a thunderstorm cleared. When we were at last airborne, I settled down with a book and continued to read until I realized that we had been circling RDU for quite a while. What now? “Well, folks, there’s a tornado warning down there,” announced the pilot’s incongruously cheerful voice. “We’re going to see if we can make it down, but right now it looks pretty rough, so sit tight.”
Would we have to land somewhere else? How long could we circle? I looked at my spouse who was sleeping peacefully and then out the widow. All I could see was swirling mist and clouds gray as smoke. Thunderheads rode the horizon.
Round and round, dip and sway went the plane. It seemed as if it were dancing with the air. A glance at my watch said it was nearly four hours since we had left Atlanta. Then… “There is a small window on the northern side of RDU,” announced our pilot. “I’m going to try for it.”
We descended. Mist and gray clouds rose about us obscuring everything. It seemed as if we were falling into a cauldron of gray smoke. Mike woke up and looked out of the window with me. “Don’t worry,” he said. “The pilot knows what he’s doing.”
What, me worry? I was just holding my breath for fun. But there—was that a break in the clouds? Yes! Mist fell away, and below us I saw land!
The last thing I remember remarking as our plane set down on the tarmac was that a rainbow was arcing up into the sky.
No matter how far
Or to what beauty we go
Coming home is key.