Thursday, December 6, 2007

Missing a Jet Plane For the First Time...

Ok, I hope you don't mind, but I'm reaching back a few months to when we put Joshua on the Qatar flight to the States at the end of August. He was supposed to connect in Dulles, Washington, DC, for a short flight to Philadelphia where my sister, Claudia, was going to pick him up about 11 pm after a terribly long day's journey into night.

So, when I received a call from Claudia that next morning (my time) before the hour that I had estimated Josh would arrive in Philly, I knew immediately that something was wrong. Wrong it was! After nearly 20 hours of continuous travel from Kathmandu via Doha to DC, Josh simply fell asleep waiting for his Philly flight and woke up a few minutes after the gate had closed. Naturally, he was shocked and immediately called Claudia to tell her.

Fortunately, United Airlines (with Claudia's calm help...) was able to rebook Joshua on the first flight the next morning to Philly. So, Josh basically stayed up the whole night, munching on some snacks, slowly sipping a Coke, listening to his iPod while chatting with some Nepali workers at Dulles, so he wouldn't perchance miss his flight.

This is the email I sent to my wayward son that morning when I heard that he was anxious and alone in the Dulles Airport, some 12,000 miles away... A Dad's effort to reassure his son and relate some of his own travel travail from his own life's journey...

Dear Joshua,

Yesterday was such a hard day for me. After taking you to the airport, I felt such a loss in not having you nearby. Even doing the Old Growth puzzle (I think we bought it years ago in Olympia National Park) w/ Leah couldn't replace my deep feelings for you. Although she was so happy to have my full attention, the thought of you flying far away was with me all day and last night.

I don't think a child can ever understand how a parent feels when their children grow up and leave home. They can be 16, 17 or 18 years old, but there is a sudden and profound loss that parents are not prepared for -- no matter how much we know that it is going to happen. I was also so exhausted, since we didn't sleep well the
night before, either, knowing that you were going.

At 3 pm yesterday, while you were in Doha, Leah & I went to sleep/rest in Ezra's room (since it was the darkest...), then got up at 6 pm again to work on her puzzle. During dinner, your absence was so palpable. We all commented on it, with Ez saying as he got up from the table, "Nothing will be the same again..." I even had a hard time looking up from my food since I knew I wouldn't see you
there... My emotions were just too vulnerable.

Yet, I want you to know, that I feel such pride in you, Joshua. You are such a brave and confident young man. You have stepped out in the world on your own to create a new world for yourself. You have taken decisions that few sons your age could imagine. You have given the gift of friendship to so many, both your peers and younger children. You have made your parents proud of their oldest son -- not to mention your grandparents, aunts & uncles. You have become a great adventurer in the world, a young man of depth & ambtion, a young, idealistic hero to your father.

I know that you must feel unsettled and disappointed waiting alone in Dulles airport for your now morning flight on United. It can't feel easy having missed the earlier flight and having to make sure to get up at the right time in the morning for the next flight. My heart is with you at this time as I, too, count the hours til you
get on your next plane.

But, know, that you are not completely alone, nor the first person to miss a plane flight. It's a bit too easy to do...

I don't know if I ever told you about missing my flight back to Thailand from the States after I'd come to Westport for my first orientation with Save the Children in 1982. It was one of my first 'professional' experiences and I totally mixed up my flights. The plane was scheduled to leave Seattle at 1 am, but I showed up at the airport 24 hours late. When I got there, I wondered why the airport was so quiet. Unfortunately, the flight had left a day earlier. I'd gotten the date/day wrong in my mind, not realizing that I had to show up the day before a 1 am flight -- not on the next evening of the day of the 1 am flight!! Dumb!

Fortunately, I was with my friend from Amherst, Gary Giorgi, who was practicing medicine there, so he could take me home. But you can imagine how embarrassing it was to call SC in the morning having to ask them to rearrange my flights since I'd missed my earlier one... What a way to start a 25 year career with Save the Children... ;-)

But, that wasn't my first major airline missed flight...

When Scott and I were traveling in Africa, we were hired in Nairobi, Kenya to run oil field camps in the Sudan. The company, Kenya Oilfield Services, flew us up to the Sudan in Twin Otter planes (the propeller planes we use to fly up to Jomson in Nepal). We landed in Juba in southern Sudan, where I met Phillipe Cousteau (son of the famous undersea diver). Then, we flew up to Beni Nusa, a Chevron Oil camp in the huge Nile swampland of southern Sudan. While coming in to land, we flew over hundreds of grass huts with these magnificent black Dinka
tribe people wearing almost nothing but huge ivory arm bands and carrying spears.

I was so amazed, I walked down the runway and into the village to see these Africans for myself. I remembered Carl Jung in "Memories, Dreams, Reflections" (the book I was reading when we left the States in 1978) writing how he longed to be out of Europe (he was Swiss), out of the Western culture, in a land that didn't know the world as he had been taught, its history, its art, its religion, its structures. I felt the same looking into the eyes of these Dinka men; we had almost nothing in common that I could perceive...

However, while I was romancing my youthful experience of the larger world, I never heard the small plane take off as Scott was sitting in his seat anxiously scanning the horizon to see where I'd gone. You can imagine how angry the oil company guy was when I wandered back to the camp a half hour later, but with no plane on the
runway. Totally embarrassed and angry with myself, I had to spend the night there, then catch a flight up to Khartoum the next day.

Still, life continued the next day, and the day after that.

Such are the moments we have to live through in life. Since as Nietzche said, 'what doesn't kill us makes us stronger...' We live & grow through our mistakes, our wrong choices and our passing embarrassments.

Of course, I wish I'd told you to tell the person at the United counter to watch out to make sure that you didn't fall asleep while waiting for your connecting flight to Philly. It's so easy to sleep after such a long flight from Kathmandu to DC. I remember at times trying to wake you or Ez or Leah to even get off the jet plane when we'd arrive after such long journeys. After all, it's a long, fully exhausting trip around the world you've just accomplished. You had a right to be sleepy.

So, today, my heart is with you in the corridors of Dulles airport. I know that it won't be a comfortable night waiting for your flight tomorrow via NYC to Philly. You're tired, you're anxious and you're disappointed. I know the feelings.

Just remember, as well, when you read this. It has happened to all of us, every adult you know has had to go through such situations.

Remember, therefore, as well, to be proud of yourself, of what you are doing, of all that you have done in your life, of the mere getting to America on your own. As Grandma Rose always said, "Be kind to yourself!"

Wake up and start another day tomorrow with confidence in your heart.

Know, too, that our thoughts are with you. Know how much your Mom, Ezra, Leah & I love you. Know how proud we are of you. Know that we wish we could stand over you and protect you every moment of the day. Know that we do in our thoughts and prayers.

Rest easily tonight, Joshu. Look out at the world around you and feel proud of yourself for coming to America on your own. In the daytime, Grammy and Claudia will be there to pick you up, even if a bit delayed, at the Philadelphia airport. They will be so happy to see you and drive with you to NMH.

You have time, remember. School doesn't start for another week. Today was always planned as a travel day. Of course, it may have been more comfortable sleeping at Claudia's, but you will survive a night in the airport. Given how often you will be flying across the globe, you may have other nights in airports in the future... ;-)

Rest easy, my son, and know that half way around the world we love you and are sending you our deepest affection, your Dad


ellenbergd said...

Catching up on my distance learning this non-rainy December day. The garden is verdant with rock beds clear with summer leaves gone.
I loved this piece, Keith. Thanks for leading the way on good parenting. Letting go......what is more bittersweet than that? As we mull in the fullness of uncertainty during Lily's first high school year, it's heartening to hear of Josh's fine launch.

Much love always


Keith D. Leslie said...


Lovely to hear your voice here!

I thought this lengthy message would help Josh (at the time)understand the foibles of his own father as he accepts some fait accompli of his own...

For us, too, it ain't easy to put these little creatures (who may be taller than us...) on a jet plane. That was one of the hardest days of my life.

Yet, with Josh incoming this Saturday, the time has slipped past and we can feel how much he has grown in nuturing his own identity far from our cradle.

missing you guys, as always,

love, moi

Ellie said...

Just this piece after seeing the blog link on your email. Thanks for sharing thoughts that others would find too private to reveal.

And please let Josh know that we (Mimi, Tsering and I) found Tensing Sherpa at the BKK airport last summer after he missed his previous day's connection home. He, too, had fallen asleep and ended up having to stay the night -- no immigration clearance -- til the next day's flight to KTM.

By now, Josh has probably heard this story as he's here and has seen Tenzing, I'm sure.

Love to you all from just up the hill,

Keith D. Leslie said...


Thanks for your note! I hope that these sentiments and experiences permit others, too, to share their thoughts & affections in ways that encourage all of us to ever so slightly and gently open our inner lives to each other.

xoxo, Keith