Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Domestic Baggage Claim

View from our hotel room balcony.

Returning to Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport from a brief holiday, the sign directing us to “Domestic Baggage Claim” prompted me thinking about how difficult it is to claim our “domestic baggage.”

Traveling with Wade kept us mindful of the “domestic baggage” we carry even when on a somewhat “carefree” vacation, away from home responsibilities and routines. We know each other so well: I know not to rush Wade off the plane, as is my wont; he knows my propensity for chatter with him and almost everyone we encounter. (He’s pretty good at that, too, when the fancy strikes him.)

He was attending a business conference in Las Vegas, and I tagged along, cashing in mileage to fly free. While he was attending his meetings and obligatory socials, I hung out with my brother and a friend, who came up from Los Angeles to visit while showing me around yet another city that never sleeps.

I had been to Vegas “accidentally” three times before: driving home to L.A. with fellow seminarians who wanted to stop there for a couple of hours to gamble; on a flight from Hawai’i diverted from a fogged-in LAX to LAS overnight; and finally, there with a group of United Methodists and Presbyterians to protest the nearby nuclear test site—all more than thirty years ago when the city was much less “fa-bu-lous” than it is today.

But this was my first intentional visit to the city, though the draw was traveling with Wade for the first time in years, seeing family, and—I must admit—enjoying the hotel amenities. We also dined at two fine restaurants, and took in one show, Cirque de Soleil’s “Love” featuring Beatles music. We never gambled, not out of principle, just that the slot machines looked too complicated, and we have no particular expertise at card games.

A woman whose language I couldn't even identify
kindly offered to take this photo of Wade and me.

The weather app on my phone said I was in Paradise, but the 110-113 degrees it registered told me I was in quite the other place.

My impression was that Las Vegas is the internet incarnated, with all its distractions, diversions, flashing lights, waving banners, demands for attention, bawdy enticements, noisy promotions. We could watch water fountain shows from our balcony, eat at a Mexican restaurant along the Grand Canal (!) as singing gondoliers guided their gondolas past, witness tourists jump off a 108-story casino or slide in a tube through a shark-infested pool.

I enjoyed nursing a glass of chardonnay in the lobby bar as literally hundreds of passing souls satisfied my appetite for people-watching.

But getting back to my topic of claiming our domestic baggage. Both my brother and sister and I are of an age where we can smile at our separate baggage, our different peccadillos, even sometimes laugh and tease one another about them. Birth order, diverse vocational paths, unique personality traits, disappointments, and achievements, even who we might have voted for in the last election. We may still roll our eyes or take exceptions, but we know we are not going to change the other, nor are we going to change the love we have for one another.

We have been one another’s most penetrating critics and strongest defenders, we have suffered and celebrated at each other’s hands, but we are family. The one thing we can agree on is our love for our parents and their love for us, though we recognize their own limitations and vulnerabilities even as they did ours. (The poet W.H. Auden once wrote of the value of viewing God as parent [“father” in his words], because it suggests our bond with God is indissoluble.)

Awaiting our departure at the Vegas airport, Wade and I started chatting with the restaurant server. As it turned out, she had purposely chosen her son’s name as my mother had, Christopher.  And his middle name is also Roy, as mine is. I told her of another coincidence I had experienced with a Delta rep on my birthday years ago (see my post about it). Her name was Chris, and we shared the same birthdate.

I have a feeling that if we chatted more with one another, strangers would find more and more such coincidences, more things we have in common, as well as more differences to appreciate. In a world and a time when there are those who would divide us, it’s time we claimed our domestic baggage, sharing our personal “stuff."

A Native American woman once began a workshop I attended, saying of indigenous peoples, “When we meet one another for the first time, we try to find out how we are related.” This is a good model for us all, I think.

Jesus might have said, “Who are my mother and brothers and sisters? Those who know their mother and father God’s love for all God’s children.”

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Copyright © 2017 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.  

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