I went to Spain to celebrate my fortieth birthday. On our unfilled, 7-hour flight from New York to Barcelona, I learned that there was an accidental stowaway on the plane. Evidently, an Australian man had gone to the bathroom while the flight attendants cleaned the plane and then, addled by jetlag and Ambien, the man returned to his seat and fell asleep, unaware that he had not disembarked at his planned destination. He awoke and looked out the window, expecting to see the sun setting behind Lady Liberty. Instead, he saw a dark night as he was ferried in the wrong direction.
My seatmate got all the details while waiting in the bathroom line. The airline – probably terrified of getting sued – had refunded his ticket and bumped him to first class, with the enviable foldout beds and pajamas available on long international flights.
I have no idea what happened to that man, but I like to imagine that he chose to stay in Spain for a few days before moving on, hope that he saw his detour as divine intervention. I imagine him outside the airport in the taxi line, wondering what destination to give the cabbie. He didn’t bring the right guidebook, has no hotel reservations, doesn’t speak the language, packed a rain jacket but no swim trunks. What’s the local currency and is the water safe to drink? I’m certain he felt what my daughter calls “wobbly,” that emotional mixed nut can of confusion, fear, and excitement.
2020 feels wobbly, like every prospect and plan we had got detoured. Imagine being stoked for Yankee Stadium, pizza, and Times Square but instead handed soccer, paella, and La Sagrada Familia. Barcelona is amazing, but it’s a very different sort of great than NYC.
None of us could have anticipated a global pandemic that would collectively send us to our rooms to reflect on our lives. And as we emerged months later, blinking in the light, we were bombarded by our new reality: political division, unemployment insurance, health care inequity, a failing economy, voices raised and feet marching for sweeping law enforcement reform. Let’s not forget the oil spills and murder hornets and riots. We are urgently being called to band together – but stay 6 feet apart! – to rise against social injustice. Life went from a standstill to a carousel and everything feels urgent. We’re angry. Frustrated. Exhausted. Irritated. Confused. Wobbly.
But wobbly is where shift happens. Surrender to the painful and scary, those places we’ve run from and hid from and buried deep in our bones. When we embrace the wobble, we create the opportunity for growth. Maybe we should set down our phones and pick up the hard work of experiencing it all.
2020 has definitely been a trip. So we planned for Broadway and got a beach instead. Even if we hate the sun, we all know that, no matter how thorough the itinerary, trips never go as planned. There will be rain, delayed trains, and sour stomachs. Why are we thrilled by difference and diversity when we travel, but uncomfortable with it at home? Travel isn’t always fun, but it’s always rewarding, always proves that we are more resilient and capable than we give ourselves credit for being.
Wander about an unfamiliar terrain and don’t be embarrassed to admit you’re lost. Ask the locals for help. Buy the book, dog-ear the pages you need to return to. Immerse yourself in new culture, food, and people. Leave each place better than you found it. Drink in the new and unfamiliar, liberating yourself from your limiting ego.
For me, the further away I go, the more I discover myself. Be awake to it all. It’s the only way through the wobble.