I don’t enjoy flying. It’s not that I’m afraid; I’m just not comfortable, especially when I fly coach which, when it comes to international destinations, is all the time. The seats are narrow and the leg room nonexistent. Then, there are those annoying people who think the armrests are only for them. If you don’t know the person seated beside you when you board the plane, you will certainly know him by the time you land.
For this trip, I use travel points and begin my journey on July 4th in the comfort of an American Airlines' First Class cabin from Orange County, California, stopping in Boston to visit my 88 year-old aunt. Unprepared for the 90 degree heat and suffocating humidity, (God bless California’s dry air and cool nights,) I don’t pay much attention to the young man at the car rental counter who warns me about road closures for the holiday. I do, however, spring for a GPS which turns out to be a lifesaver. After two hours driving the Massachusetts Turnpike, making countless recalculations long after dark, I manage to find my destination. Aunt Jeannette, a woman after my own heart, feeds me pizza and wine before tucking me into bed.
Twenty-four hours later, I settle into an Aer Lingus airbus coach cabin, preparing to travel another 3000 miles. I chuckle at the video featuring a plane which doesn’t remotely resemble the cramped seats of the airbus. The charming flight attendant on the screen instructs passengers, in case of pressure loss, to push the seats, already jammed against our noses, forward and lean down so that our chests touch our knees with our arms protecting the backs of our heads. Due to the closeness of the seats this is a logistical impossibility even if I am limber enough to perform such a feat, which isn’t a given at all. I no longer feel like chuckling.
Finally, I look out my window and see, once again, the unique landscape of Ireland, its patchwork of greens and yellows, silver lakes and its pale, milky sun rising from the sea. My sleepless night, the dried out chicken, the discomfort of bumping elbows with the man beside me fades. This is the land of my ancestors. This is where people look like me. Freckles, red hair, fair skin and blue eyes dominate the population.
As I collect my luggage and negotiate my way through the “nothing to declare” exit, I search the bleary-eyed crowd assembled to greet their own, the descendents of family who, in another lifetime, “crossed the water." Then I spot him, blue eyes, warm smile, red hair gone gray. My heart lifts. My journey is over.