Mental Health & Counseling Travel

In Transit

January 14, 2023

Tran·sit  /ˈtranzət/ 1. an act of passing through or across a place.

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It is a good and safe rule to sojourn in every place as if you meant to spend your life there, never omitting an opportunity of doing a kindness, or speaking a true word, or making a friend.

John Ruskin

There is a wide world out there, full of pain, but filled with joy as well. The former keeps you on the path of growth and the latter makes the journey tolerable 
R.A. Salvatore

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Once again I find myself people-watching in an airport. It’s the new year and you’d think after all the schicksel (a Low German word learned from my in-laws: I’ve gathered this roughly means a lot of bother or trouble and there’s likely no word to match it in English) we had coming home last week we’d have learned our lesson. But here we are. This time, as Christmas memories fade, we are heading to the southwest sunshine and so far, flights are on time, there are pilots for said flights, and no flight deck computers have needed rebooting yet. The only cloud on the horizon is a mild case of heartburn from an airport breakfast. This too shall pass. 

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A few weeks ago I wrote about the adventure of heading home for Christmas. Looking back through the rearview mirror of adjusted perceptions, I see now the trip there was peaches and cream, total ease and enjoyment, compared to the trip home. Due to the trauma that ensued I have not been able to think or write about it since. It was truly an adventure but the kind you don’t want too much of; a little like a Turkish delight or an ethnic smorgasbord in rural China (which is another story). 

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With Christmas 2022 under our belts we leave Vancouver on time, which is noteworthy. The Boeing triple-seven, laden with Christmas weary passengers, egg-nogged and knackered, banks steeply over the bay waters and then tracks due east over the frozen tundra of Canada. We land in Montreal almost 5 hours later, stiff but hopeful, with kind and tolerant thoughts toward the French Canadians and their bonjour parle-vous mercis. We then walk what feels like halfway home before we come to the US Border Customs, have our passports checked, and then endure another round of security. Lift bags onto rollers, remove laptop, empty pockets, take off belt, what about the watch? I automatically remove my shoes so the agent can check for Christmas contraband, only to have him tell me to please put them back on, he is not interested in “smelling my feet.” His actual words. How does he know I haven’t changed my socks since we left? The intuition of these French airport security guys is amazing. Do not mess with them or attempt to smuggle eggnog in your socks.

We then sit at the gate and feel the hope that springs eternal within us at the sight of our aircraft, sitting demurely at our gate. Ah, at least the plane is here. The overhead announcement board says On time. Nice. Little do we know what lies ahead. Little do we know

The first sign of impending doom comes with an ominous text message that reports a 15-minute delay. We are tolerant of such incremental and seemingly innocent delays. Things happen, pilots get caught with Delhi belly and Montezuma’s revenge, just like anyone else. You gotta have patience. Trust the process. Fifteen minutes is nothing in the scheme of things.

But the incremental delays keep coming. We overhear a rumor that settles like frost on our homeward bound hearts: our pilots are coming from Toronto. Toronto is in Canada. That means that the pilots must cross the US Customs here, just like all other mere mortals. Country borders do not care about four bars on your shoulders, the peaked cap, or the gold on your sleeves.

Here’s a little warning, a word to all the wise and good citizens flying or transiting through Canada, and in particular, Toronto and Montreal international airports: US Customs closes at 8 p.m. sharp. Agents have been known to leave at 7:58. 

The plane arrives from Toronto carrying our precious pilots and cabin crew a little after 8 p.m. 

The pilots and cabin crew do not make the customs before closing. There is no mercy. There is no leeway, there are no exceptions to the rules. In acceptance there is peace, but we have no peace because we are not accepting this. We sit at our gate, the time is 8:30 p.m., and we are not happy. In fact, we are struggling with a special type of anger that includes anxiety (I have to be on shift in the morning), disappointment (it’s high time to get home and see the dog), and fear (what if, like those unfortunate enough to fly Southwest this season, we are stranded here forever? I have catastrophic visions of having to learn the proper pronunciation of croissant and trying to find work in a local hospital). 

People get noisy and bombard the gate agent, that poor unfortunate soul who is the only face of the airline, although entirely innocent of the whole fiasco. He announces that we must exit through the back of the gate and go out of security, all the way to an Air Canada (whoops, I said it) desk for rebooking. He says the word rebooking with a hopeful upward lilt, as if it’s just a matter of simple keyboarding and printing a new boarding pass. 

Luckily we have our bags with us, carry-ons only, and thus do not have to transit first to the carousel to retrieve said bags before getting in line. The line is indeed a line, and I wait nervously for an hour before seeing an agent who tells me impatiently that no, she cannot rebook me. This line is only for hotel and meal vouchers if we need them. Well, considering that we neglected to pack a tent, a portable stove, and trail mix, we will likely need a place to stay, thank-you. I then ask, kindly (I hope), if there is any chance at all of getting on a flight in the morning. She huffs a little and performs a harried and discordant tap-tap-tap on the keyboard, like woodpecker on a tree already known to be devoid of termites. Next flight from Montreal to Chicago with exactly three seats is January 3. My gulp is probably heard across the crowded airport. January 3! That’s in, like, a week? She then checks other airlines and finds them all singing the same, sad, song. We simply are not going to Chicago anytime soon. Not that we have any special affinity for the Windy City, but you see, our vehicle is parked at the airport there. We need that thing. 

We are duly given our vouchers, which include the dirty, salt-encrusted yellow taxis sitting at the departures’ curb. The driver speaks little English, so after a quiet 20-minute drive over crunchy, snow-covered roads and bleak gray winter landscapes, we arrive at our hotel. Once in the room I proceed to wait on hold for over two hours and finally give up, as it is after midnight and my eyeballs, patience, and cerebral cortex are beginning to alarm and then fail, one by one. 

We arrive back at the airport the next morning, beleaguered and hungry (vouchers are only good for airport food, which is non-conveniently found after security), and complete the mandatory line-up and finally speak with someone who has a small corner of warmth in his heart, a benevolent country on planet chaos. He reiterates and confirms, but nicely this time, that the next flights to Chicago are indeed next week. After some beard scratching and discussion of options, he proceeds to book us to Toronto for later evening with a flight on to Detroit late the following day, the reasoning being that hey, at least we’ll be in the right country. We bleakly look forward to 24 hours in transit.

We go through all security measures again and tiptoe through customs (they are back on shift, all refreshed and bright-eyed). As I am Canadian by birth, Tim Hortons is part of my DNA. I wait in line long enough to procure a strong coffee and honey cruller, enough to satisfy that lonesome part of my donut-shaped chromosome. The same way I’ve been put on hold for hours here, I now put my low carb lifestyle on hold as well as I take comfort in Timbits and apple fritters. 

We then try to brainstorm our way home—Car rental? Train? Bus? Boat? Turns out these are not options to get from Montreal to Chicago, at least not acceptable or timely options. I spend an hour on the phone calling car rental agencies that all sing the same discordant song: sorry, no one-way, cross-border rentals. 

Then a modern Good Samaritan appears by phone. Rose’s brother from Ontario offers to pick us up in Toronto or nearby London and drive us across the border so we can rent a car. We jump at it. We then call Air Canada and 3.5 hours later they call us back (seriously) and agree to fly us to London instead of Detroit (At one point a helpful young French-Canadian agent tries to find us a flight to London Heathrow. Maybe another time, thanks). It’s one of those little things that make a big difference. My boss is still disgruntled (I feel like I’m being held responsible for late pilots everywhere, the fact that customs closes early, and the general post-Christmas pandemonium) but relieved that I at least will return to work one day sooner. 

(Here’s a quick hypothetical question: Why do airlines have service desks if they cannot help or support you? I was told numerous times by agents that in order to book, I would have to call the reservations number. Since I observed them printing boarding passes for others, I suspect maybe my socks were again causing a problem.)

Later that night, after more delays, we finally fly to Toronto and catch a turbo-prop commuter to London. Not only does our generous and helpful Good Samaritan pick us up after midnight, but when we get to their place, there is a large picture perfect charcuterie of meats, cheeses, pickles, chips, salsa, and desserts.  We eat and laugh and the stress of the past hours begins to melt off our shoulders, like snow off a winter-weary hill in a joyous chinook. They then give us their luxurious and well-appointed guest suite. Talk about picking up the wounded from the trail and giving them your best! To say we are grateful is an understatement. If you ever read this, Randy and Lois, may you be blessed seven-fold and with interest. 

The next morning we cross the Blue Water Bridge over the St. Claire River and rent a car in Flint, Michigan. We drive like fury through pouring rain to Chicago, where we pick up our vehicle, turn around, and gallop for home. Sixty hours after departing Vancouver, we hit the garage door opener on County Road 23: luggage intact, worn out, terrible thoughts about Air Canada already starting to fade, just slightly.  The dog exuberantly greets us, her tail almost flying off, her grin spread from ear to ear. All around, such joy. 

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And so we begin our transit of the year 2023. 

There will be delays, there always are. There will be disappointments, there always are. There will be free stuff and some not-so-free stuff. There will be unplanned medical bills and likely some new gas tax, and eggs and milk will probably go up in price. There may be new fears and we’ll wrestle with old familiar ones.  Grief, that dark formidable form always lurking in the gray mountain shadows of life, may come out to shake our hand and lead us through some unplanned, here-to-fore untraveled valley of the shadow. 

Depression and anxiety don’t usually stop at the door to the new year but sometimes we do have the choice to open new doors they will find difficult to fit through. They can be, after all, rather large, engorged beings in our lives, taking up too much space at any rate. Maybe there will be a window, way up there, like a beam of hope in a prison cell. We can start climbing towards that light, following the beam, answering the call to that one step in the right direction. 

For the most part these are all the inevitable travel companions here on planet earth. It’s all part of the transit whether we like it or not. 

There will be good things, too. We will all have a chance at happiness and joy. There will be calls to freedom, invitations to enlarge the borders of our tents, summons to silence and serenity. A reorientation towards divine guidance and goodness may be required. We may be moved towards repentance and find redemption, experiencing the relief that comes when burdens are released and fall into the sea of forgetfulness. This may be the year we find true meaning for our lives. We may discover some new path and purpose. 

This may be the year we saddle up, grab our sword, and ride into the heart of darkness to seek solutions to our besetting sin, the reason for the addiction, the cause of the chaos. This speaks of suffering and struggle, both inevitable components of transit, whether we like it or not. There is no growth, no insight, no wisdom without these. 

Perhaps the time has come to authentically connect with our children. Meet them heart to heart in their field of dreams. This particular transit is 365 days long; time enough to open our souls to the fact that our delight in them will make all the difference between future pathology and pain or health and wellbeing. This transit is long enough to learn to listen effectively and build bridges of compassion and understanding. Time enough. 

We have a choice in how we transit. We can choose gratitude, we can choose to look at the bright side, we can choose to see silver linings. Our transit can be one of drudgery or one of acceptance and joy. How you transit is up to you. 


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