I am writing this on a plane, and it’s going somewhere far away. I travel a bit for work these days. It’s both a perk and a punishment of working for a company with a global footprint.
Travel does something to the soul and spirit that puts you in a unique place of vulnerability. Senses are heightened, different outcomes anticipated, and new things are on the horizon (literally). I find it does something else to me too; it breaks my heart in a particular way.
I often travel solo when I’m working and, perhaps as a stereotypical expression of my personality type, I implement a nuanced routine as I navigate the delicate dance of things to be done to get from home to destination. Some of these are voluntary; others happen of their own accord.
Passport goes in right hand, metal-detector-setting-off-things in hand luggage, find place in airport to sit by big window, drink sparkling water with lemon, immerse myself in really great song during 3 to 5 minute walk to the gate (this is when the creative side of me pretends I’m in a music video and the people in the airport are all paid extras), turn every page of the airline magazine before take-off (I never actually read the magazine, but I like ads for watches, and those vicarious photos they take of things to do at travel destinations).
Somewhere in between my imaginary music video clip and roaring down the runway is when an involuntary thing happens; my eyes start leaking. My thoughts turn to my family that I have left at home and my heart breaks, specifically for my kids. My mind plays snapshots of rolling on the floor in tickle fights, kissing them goodnight, conversations in the car, meal times. Heartstrings are tugged and tugged hard, and for about seven minutes I become fairly-awkward-late-30’s-crying-man. Tears stream, glasses have to be removed, the back of the hand is used as a makeshift tissue, and there are big sniffs.
This is the glamorous side of business travel.
I used to dread the onset of such intense feelings, like knowing a band-aid is about to be ripped off (taking a bit of the scab with it), and there’s nothing I can do about it right now. As it’s happened with more regularity and as I’ve asked myself why it happens and why do I feel what I feel, I’ve come to embrace it as a good thing. Let me explain.
As parents, we are supposed to feel compassion for our kids. I am supposed to feel a serrated tension over the temporary in-completeness in their lives when I am not there. This blearily eyed meander through airports serves as a brilliant reminder to me that things are right on track because it provides me with irrefutable evidence that I love my kids so deeply when I leave them that I cannot control my emotions.
None of this is based on worry, or regret, or concern that my wife cannot cope without me. Not a scrap. Quite the opposite. The best way I can describe this is that I feel a painful upside-downiness of uncontrollable joy, pride, and gratitude for my wife, my kids, and God’s never ending faithfulness in my life. I sob with tears that can’t be contained, and my heart breaks because surely His goodness and love have followed me all the days of my life. It hurts so much at that moment because the snapshots in my mind remind me of all these things that are so pure. Things from which I’m currently separated.
This is different from the feeling of missing my wife when I travel. I miss her because she is my one true love, and my best friend; we share life and love. With kids it’s different; we are not actually best friends – we don’t share life, it is my accountability as a parent to impart life into my kids – it’s a different relationship for a different outcome.
I can also empathise, just a tiny bit, with the Father-heart of God. We need to know that his heart breaks with compassion, joy, and love for us. He calls us his children. And when I close the door on a freshly-kissed-goodnight cuddling machine who’s just told me “I love you too Dad, you’re awesome” I find my heart resembles something like the inside of a wheel of brie, and I get a small window into how God must feel when we engage with Him after he has imparted so much life into us.
By the time its wheels-down I’m well and truly over the flood of emotions. The snapshots (and the occasional imaginary music video shoot) still happen as I’m moving about stranger places, but never with the same gravity as that interval between airport security and take-off.
There definitely is something about leaving.