On Hiccups and Hurdles

We raced through the Charlotte airport, Meggan trailing behind me past the rocking chairs and the Hudson News and onto the people movers.  It was an unlikely trip we were on, booked only a day or two before, up to New York for a day.  After a week, maybe two, of daily calling and/or emailing the various South African consulates across the country, it was finally determined that as Tennesseans, we would have to appear in person in New York to apply for our visas for the semester.

Made the connection, looked online for a possible play to go see or at least a nice dinner to enjoy, got to New York.  But we landed to learn that without the aid of the people movers, our bag was not able to make it to the LaGuardia flight.  This normally wouldn’t be a problem for a one-day trip to New York, except that the bags happened to be filled with sleeping bags and pillows, the “beds” we planned to sleep in at Joseph’s recently-vacated apartment (another well-laid plan that unraveled, but that is another story).  So as we stood in Baggage Services, faced with the option of waiting until 3am for our bags to be delivered or grabbing a bite at romantic LaGuardia Terminal B and then grabbing the bags when the next Charlotte flight arrived, we befriended a portrait artist/Grove tailgating concierge from Oxford (Mississippi, not England), now living in Queens.  Louis was his name and with acknowledgement of the sketchiness of the offer, he offered to direct us to a restaurant in Queens and pick us up there to return to the airport to retrieve our bags and his and send us on his way.  Which is exactly what we did, including a serendipitously terrific meal at Enthaice in Queens.

The trip to New York was the culmination of a weeks-long attempt to secure a visa to South Africa and the beginning of a weeks-long wait for delivery of that visa to our home.  The adventure of arriving probably outshined our experience the next day at the Consulate near the UN and at a sketchy fingerprinting operation near the Empire State Building.  Now that it is behind us, with visas in hand and bags back at home, it dissolves into the larger story of this experience.  It was a hiccup, annoying to experience, but ultimately not any substantial impediment to the trip.

I write now sitting in another airport, this time Atlanta, awaiting departure of my flight to South Africa.  It is Thursday.  I said good-bye to Meggan, Sadie, and Ben (for the first time) on Monday, and, after a hiccup (flight from Memphis to Dallas canceled), repeated the experience on Tuesday.  I got out on Tuesday, but have now been in Atlanta for 48 hours.  The story of how this came to be is worth its own post/letter to the airlines, but for now, we can just call it another hiccup.  At this time, the plan is to board a flight to Johannesburg in four hours or so and begin the adventure in earnest.  Two of my three bags are already there, I am told.

In the best light, all of this has been a series of inconveniences.  Hiccups.  But something noteworthy about these hiccups is that we are choosing to suffer them.  There is no obligation that we disrupt our very comfortable – if hectic – lives and uproot to South Africa for 5 months.  This is something we have voluntarily chosen to do, even with the knowledge that doing so will be more of a challenge than our regular life. Which is precisely the point.  As I thumb through South Africa travel books and chart an itinerary for our time abroad, I am excited about the things we will experience and the perspectives I hope we will all gain.  But most of all, I am excited that this experience is going to push us out of our comfort zones.  We are going to have to think through things, not merely execute on things that we have already done before.  It is like learning to write with your left hand (right for Meggan) in order to sharpen your skill-learning instincts and keep your mind fresh.  It is like practicing jumping over hurdles because you know that life is filled with them.

Which brings me back to the hiccups.  They are undeniably annoying.  Some are even costly.  But this thing we are doing is not supposed to be easy.  If it were free of hiccups, if it didn’t push us to stretch in unfamiliar ways, it wouldn’t be worth doing.  (Maybe I’ll feel differently about that in October – stay tuned!)  We are very fortunate to live as we do in Memphis, and we are very fortunate to have this opportunity to do something different.  I am hopeful that this something different will prepare us all for the future hiccups and hurdles of life.

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