Lift Off – Touch Down
As the two rear wheels lifted off the ground of O'Hare runway number 6, so did my spirits and hopes for the future.
Left behind were my homeland, my family and friends, and some of the greatest places I've ever been.
Ahead lay London, and a lady. Neither of whom I had ever laid eyes on. And I boldly sat in my cramped airline seat and thought only good, positive thoughts.
Where was the requisite fear and anxiety, I wondered? Where were the usual ever-present doubt and the inherent impulse to wait for the other shoe to drop? Where was my cynicism?
What I was feeling was not idealism, which is usually what fills the vacuum normally occupied by the cynic. I was simply assessing the scenario with wide-open eyes, without skepticism even, and what I saw was simply a wonderful opportunity to succeed and be happy.
I confess to never previously approaching a significant move in my life with that mindset. Not even close. Not my two marriages; not before interviewing for a great job; not before moving back east, or subsequently deciding to move back home to California.
I had idealism erased from my mental etch-a-sketch at an early age. A loveless childhood followed by both parents dying before I was 23, and then a floundering, searching, almost desperate decade of my 20s where I learned a great deal outside of any formal classroom, but also learned that life did not hold the capacity for fairness. It was an intellectual duality that has festered in my mind ever since, almost always at odds and rarely allowing for intellectual comfort or ease.
But that decade of growth and angst also defines me to this day. I embraced critical thinking and psychology and learned about the art of being a discerning thinker and listener, and how that skill trumps trust and faith when reading or talking with people who spout their personal tenets as truth. I realized that when people started to ask my opinion on things that was a sign I had gained some wisdom.
Elitism, or some strain of it, started to take root. A rare occurrence, I imagine, in a man with no formal education beyond high school. Intellectuality came easy to me, even if in a somewhat raw form. I was blessed with the gift to see and hear beyond the sights and sounds I heard and saw from people. To see shades of gray, to think in terms of nuance as opposed to absolutes. At that age, I did not necessarily know this consciously, but I lived in that fashion, and could verbalize with unusual ease what occurred in my mind.
So I operated from an elitist mindset without really realizing it, stopping short of being a snob or taking an aristocratic view of the unwashed masses. Which is probably the best route to take, as overt or blatant elitism is what has caused the word to get its pernicious flavor and intepretation.
My lack of education has always subconsciously applied the brakes to my acuity, again keeping me in check and stopping my budding misanthropic philosophy from growing to monstrous proportions, which might have coerced me into a self-imposed isolation. I still embraced my fellow man, if with a jaundiced eye, and this kept me centered.
So how will a Yank with this outlook navigate in jolly old England? I don’t know, but I will rely on my pragmatism to get me through, at least initially. Common sense knows no cultural boundaries, and indeed can often circumvent such barriers. Acting from a premise of being an interloper, which is basically what I will be for a while, will probably get me through most awkward moments. Empathy almost always trumps self-absorption.
So my feet, now planted solidly on England soil, will take me only so far. It will be mind and my writing that will determine whether or not I can leave even a remote legacy. Never having had children has slowly built up this desire in me to leave SOMETHING that might reveal what I did, thought, felt, and mused over in however many years I get to stumble around this pebble. Even if it is a hilarious recounting of my foibles, most people who read it would feel both empathy and familiarity.
We all stumble. Wouldn’t it be better if we all chose to laugh at that more?