Familiarity in a stranger

Listening to: #41 Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds
My last two to three weeks have been spent airplane hopping.  Summer is usually the time of year for vacation and mine happend to almost touch the skirts edge of my first official business trip. Airplane drinks + ice, stale air and restless naps have fueled my last several weeks and I have likely been surrounded by the less familiar than is usual.  So here are my traveling stories and reflections..  

With a quick jaunt up North I encountered a perfectly brand new little lady, who just so happens to be my niece.  I did not know my heart could expand its size to love someone so much I had never met before, but it was true - from the second I knew she was coming, there it was. Expansive, unbounded love.  And upon meeting her, we did indeed share some genes. The usual baby things were had and experienced - diapers, crying, sleeping, making some faces, playing, talking, eating  - and starting the whole cycle over again..  And some were unexpected..  she looks like my sister - like our baby pictures.  Now maybe I am a little biased, for I am made of the same combination or variation of my parents as my sister is, but, my little "G" has a streak of us in her… a dash of Puerto Rican sass, and a streak of Scottish sweetness.

Holding her one day as she started to fuss, I tried the old "Auntie C sing you a lullaby" trick. Now, I can tell you that I have spent the last 10 or so years babysitting and nannying for a variety of children of a variety of ages, and the "sing you a lullaby" trick does not always work... it does not always work… IT DOES NOT ALWAYS WORK. Seriously.  So, I assumed the crying would continue and maybe subside after a few minutes.  But in this particular instance, after about 20 seconds tears turned to listening.  She and I ran through some Burt Bacharach favs:  Close to you, Anyone who had a heart... Standards like Over the rainbow... some Beatles - Good day's Sunshine, All you need is love – Beach Boys, Don’t worry baby and a few others which my oddly musical brain would come up with on the spur of the moment.  She even got to experience a bit of "Auntie C doesn't know all the words, so I'm going to keep going and make them up as I go."  She didn't seem to mind.. Contented and listening as I continued.

Thinking this singular experience was a possible fluke, I went on with normal auntie activities.  The next day while on a drive, her slight fussiness escalated into all-out-cry, and so, my sister and I tried again… and the all-out-cry again stopped within about 30 seconds… I’m not gonna lie.  My response was shock and awe that my little nice “got the music thing..”

Too soon my time up north was spent and I meandered back home where I prepared for trip 2 out west. Before leaving and while stopped at my parents’ house, we had a few extra minutes to Skype the family which I had so recently left behind.  My sister, her husband and my little niece were huddled in front of a computer screen talking as our teeny girl started to fuss.  Building up as the crying began, my sister and my parents determined it might be time to log off. So again, I tried the old trick of "Auntie C is going to sing over Skype to see if it works..."  To my surprise…It did.  Her little face turned serious and still - so full of listening and quiet.  She knew my voice.
My trip out West was a long flight – well, longer than most of the ones I’ve recently flown.  With a connection and 4 + hours in the air, it was a standard slew of strangers in uncomfortable seats sitting all too close together.  But, it went off without a hitch and the travels were an exciting change from my regular daily tasks.

Now, I have wandered through more airports, terminals, hotels, motels and hostels than some I think I care to remember, but all the same, I'd consider myself the fairly well-traveled, traveler.   This morning as I arrived at the airport in California, I found all the usual scenes - families traveling together, business people on business trips, significant others making their way through the mazes established by the airline check-ins, security, luggage claims and drop-offs.

Occasionally when I travel I see military folks making their way to or from their destinations.  Immediately my thoughts drift to the friends and loved ones I have had in this same spot.  I always smile, I always say hi.  I always say a prayer for them.  And I always wonder where they are headed.  Last week it seemed as though there was a whole platoon at the San Jose airport – headed somewhere… I hoped they were headed home and into the arms of someone they loved, who loved them immeasurably and with boundless amounts of patience and protectiveness who would allow them to drop all the stress and guardedness at the doorstep when they get home. 

Like my experience with my little “G”, there is a familiarity, a knowledge, an understanding of how you are related… And that is always my reaction to encountering our Armed Forces. Always.  I recall every single way I am connected to them and my reaction is always one of wanting to protect them – even if they are complete strangers in an airport – they are familiar because of how we are connected.

When I decided to travel as an exchange student to Hong Kong when I was 17, it was my first international trip solo.  I knew what I was headed for – relatively.  I knew I would be living in a completely different culture, city, school and environment for 6 weeks and my reaction was some stress, anticipation and excitement.  This was different than anything I had experienced in small town Ohio.  It was probably good that it scared me a bit, because it was a challenge.  The single aspect that calmed my restlessly tossing mind was that of the familiarity of a stranger.  Although the culture and place I was headed was completely different, I would encounter and hopefully come to know people - People who loved, who had families, who worked hard, who hoped for the best, just like I do. I should likely incorporate this thinking more into my daily comings and goings.  So often the stress, anxiety and frustration of daily life interrupt who I am and who I want to be at my core. Taking a step back from the microscope and looking at the big picture should help remind me.  

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