Saturday, February 23, 2019

Are You Sitting on your Ticket?

Having come of age in the late 1980s and entered the world of English education shortly after that, it's not surprising that I'm a huge fan of essayist Robert Fulghum's work. Most of us know him from his first essay collection All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten: Uncommon Thoughts on Common Things. Fulghum's common sense folksy wisdom resonates with all ages, and his essays make for great "bell ringers" and prompts for daily journals. One of my favorites that I use regularly with my "find yourself" unit on Paulo Cohelo's The Alchemist is from Fulghum's second book, and it's about the subtle ways we stand in our own way.

Somewhere out there in the world is a young woman who, if she reads the letter that follows, will sing out, "Hey, that's me - that's my story!" This letter is written out of gratitude from me and all who have heard her story from me. Out of one person's moment of comic despair has come perspective for all.

Dear Fellow Pilgrim:

There you were, Hong Kong airport, end of the summer of 1984, tensely occupying a chair next to mine. Everything about you said, "Young American Traveler Going Home." You had by then exchanged jeans and T-shirt for sarong and sandals. Sensible short hair had given way to hair long and loose. The backpack beside you bore the scars and dirt of some hard traveling, and it bulged with mysterious souvenirs of seeing the world. Lucky kid, I thought.

When the tears began to drip from your chin, I imagined some lost love or the sorrow of giving up adventures for college classes. But when you began to sob, you drew me into your sadness. Guess you had been very alone and very brave for some time. A good cry was in order. And weep you did. All over me. A monsoon of grievous angst. My handkerchief and your handkerchief and most of a box of tissues and both your sleeves were needed to dry up the flood before you finally got it out.

Indeed, you were not quite ready to go home; you wanted to go further on. But you had run out of money, and your friends had run out of money, and so here you were having spent two days waiting in the airport on standby with little to eat and too much pride to beg. And your plane was about to go. And you had lost your ticket. You cried all over me all over again. You had been sitting in this one spot for hours, sinking into the cold sea of despair like some torpedoed freighter. At moments you thought you would sit there until you died.

After we dried you off, I and a nice older couple from Chicago, where also swept away in the tide of your tears, offered to take you to lunch and talk to the powers that be at the airlines about some remedy. You stood up to go with us, turn around to pick up your belongings. And SCREAMED. I thought you'd been shot. But no .... it was your ticket. You found your ticket. You had been sitting on it. For three hours.

Like a sinner saved from the very jaws of Hell, you laughed and cried and hugged us all and were suddenly gone. Off to catch a plane for home and what next. Leaving most of the passenger lounge deliriously limp from being part of your drama.

I've told the story countless times. "She was sitting on her own ticket," I conclude, and the listeners always smile or laugh in painful self-recognition.

Often when I have been sitting on my own ticket - sitting on whatever it is I have that will get me up and on to what comes next - I think of you and grin at both of us and get moving. So, thanks. You have become, in a special way, my travel agent. May you find all your tickets and arrive wherever it is you want to go, now and always.

Each year I read this and ask my classes to write about ways they have been sitting on their tickets and how they can get up and get on to what comes next. It's a question I ask myself too. What can I do this year, this month, this week, today, this moment, to get back on the path I'm traveling toward living the life I have imagined.

So, are you sitting on your ticket?

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