Planes, trains, automobiles, and ants

I spent today awkwardly trying to get back into my Chicago groove after spending the last seven days in four states. The multiple trips sent me across, through, and over the midwest in planes, trains, and automobiles.

So much movement and non-stop perpetual motion is mostly, usually exciting, but it can be jarring sometimes too. After I’ve landed back home, it takes me a beat to readjust to a normal pace and scene.

Plus, when visiting family and seeing friends, which this past week of travel included, it takes even more effort to get back to normal. The feelings of emotional warmth and change have to settle into their new shape, but it’s as if I’ve pushed bread dough into a pan and expected it to rise immediately. There’s a process of expansion that the new form taking shape refuses to rush, regardless of how much I want it to. I’m adept at adapting, but I forget that sometimes that takes a minute.

Things are different now, just as they always have been.

Time changes everything. But time always takes its, well, time.

After trips like these I need a brain Discombobulation Area, like the one at the airport where you try to put your shoes back on ASAP and wrangle what’s left of your dignity (quickly! quickly!) after a security pat down and wipe off the sweat congealing on your brow from being chewed up and spit out the sticky mouth of TSA.

(Clearly I love flying!)

Despite all this, I love moving around. My favorite thing about traveling is that it gives me perspective. Literally of this beautiful country, but metaphorically too. The security check line may be long, but life is short. Physical journeys, being an outsider looking in, is the antidote when everything feels small and uber-significant.

Because when everything feels small and uber-significant, it’s usually because I feel small and insignificant. Traveling reminds me how grandiose my options are, reminds me my life is big because it is also small, reminds me not to sweat it. In fact, there’s no need to sweat anything except getting to my ride on time.

And visiting friends, family, old stomping grounds? Traveling to them and dropping by for a while reminds me to be completely present in them. To feel all of it. To remember. To pay attention, because this moment * right now * is what I’ll look back on soon. I want to make it count.

Today after my evening run (or, more accurately, jog-walk… travel = treats!), I stretched in the park across from our apartment. As I laid on my back to stretch these American thighs, I turned my head to the side. Eye level was an ant diligently collecting nectar from a dandelion as if it was the most important thing in the world. He climbed all over this supposed weed, through its golden landscape, over its hilly petals.

It made me remember something my dad told me this weekend while I was home. My parents have peonies growing in the space right outside their front door. The peonies are a wonderfully visual choice once their bulbous, bombastic blooms open, but to get there, they need the help of tiny ants like this one in my Chicago park.

“There will be ants on those peony buds,” Dad said. “Go look.”

Sure enough. There were ants crawling all over their green cocooned buds.

“Ants help pull open their shells,” he said.

Sure enough. Google confirmed. The flower releases small amounts of nectar to recruit the intrepid insects into doing some of their work for them.

Would I have missed this seemingly insignificant observation had I not been paying attention? Probably. I’ve missed more while I’m physically at places than I ever have when I’m gone, longing and paying attention. 

Listening to stories from my dad. Taking time to do nothing but feel how my cat’s purr sends ripples through my fingers. Holding my niece in a hug that leaves an 8-year-old-child-sized imprint on my heart.

If that’s what travel does for me, gives to me now… The post-travel come down, the emotional discombobulation is worth it. Every time.

Like Vonnegut wrote, “Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt.”

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