On a trip from the United States to Innsbruck, Austria, an ordinary experience exposed one of my patterns and gave me great insight into how I was living my life.
My flight itinerary was long and because of delays, I had already been traveling for twenty-four hours when I finally arrived in Paris. From there I had two more flights left to take, and the first of those, the one from Paris to Vienna, was now delayed. It was not the change in luck I’d hoped for.
When the plane finally took off and landed in Vienna, there were no spare moments before I was to board my final flight to Innsbruck. I no longer had the stamina to run, but I walked fast to the nearest signboard, hoping everything would take a good course.
The signboard confirmed that I had to change terminals, and when I finally arrived at the correct terminal and the right gate, I was out of breath but elated. Then I saw there was a second security to pass through. My heart sank. I quickly shed my layers of sweater and jacket, pulled off my shoes, found bins for my traveling bags, and passed through the system without looking back.
Once I reached the end of the screening I scooped my belongings into my arms, sped to the boarding gate and saw that all passengers for my flight were already boarding a shuttle bus to take us out onto the tarmac and bring us directly to the plane. I caught the bus just as it was pulling away.
I found the one empty seat, my arms still full with my outer clothing and various belongings. I sat down with a little cheer as my two travel bags tumbled to my feet. The bus was jammed with bodies. Every available spot was taken, and in the narrow space that was mine I struggled back into my sweater and jacket and settled my head against the seat.
This was an auspicious beginning for a solitary and supposedly relaxing time of writing at a monastery in Innsbruck. Relaxation was in short demand at that moment. I was hemmed in from every direction with someone’s elbow digging into my back and a suitcase grazing my ear. But still, I’d made it. And it was in that moment when I glanced at my wrist to check the time that I realized I’d left my watch in the bin at security, having been told to remove it.
The bus continued to rumble along, but my mind was racing. The watch, perhaps ten years old, was the most expensive piece of jewelry I owned. It had two watch faces, making it a great aid for my heavy schedule of travel, and particularly for overseas travel. One watch face immediately told me the correct time at home for making phone calls and sending texts. It was clear in that moment that I would never have the money to replace the watch. The day before, in my hotel in Boston, I’d even put on a costly new watchband, adding to the loss. For a moment, I considered what it would mean to stay on the bus after the other passengers exited, ride it back to the terminal, and retrace my steps to security. Without a doubt I’d miss my flight, and there were friends waiting for me in Innsbruck. I also had no idea if there even was a later flight that evening.
It was then, on that crowded bus, that I took a long look at myself and decided to let the watch go—decided that it symbolized having/holding onto and chasing too many things. In fact, it symbolized a lifetime of chasing, and I simply could not chase one more thing. It was certainly possible to ride the bus back to the terminal. Or I could call security from Innsbruck. And yet, I couldn’t. I was done. Chasing. Things.
A bus isn’t the place where you expect to let go into a different freedom, but that bus ride was all of that for me, and more.