I am going to start this essay with a reference to the 2003 movie Love Actually, which may put some readers off their feed, but I promise to try to make the reference pay off.
(The critical debate about this movie could occupy its own essay, but I’ll leave that to my betters to tackle.)
The reference is, of course, to Hugh Grant’s opening voiceover about the comings and goings in airports, especially the greetings of separated people coming together - the joy, the relief, the “love is everywhere.”
Whether such things can actually happen in the soulless holding pens that are modern airport terminals (at least for those of us permanently in economy class) is not my point. I’m more interested in what happens in those moments in our lives of rupture and suture, of farewell and welcome home. For me, at least, these moments are definitional—they snap things into focus about one’s life in a way the fuzzy ebb and flow of daily life does not.
Departures. The Marvelous Maria Beatriz travels often, and I am her designated Lyft to get her to the airport. (So far, no hair-raising near-misses for boarding.) Her leaving never fails to leave me in a knot of doubt and unease because I can’t help thinking, “If this were the last time I saw her, could I say that I have been as good a husband and friend and mate as I could have been? What have I missed? What didn’t I honor or respect enough? Is there anything I have missed that will leave me forever regretful if this departure is our last sight of each other?”
We all know how easy it is to have our attention thinned out and distracted by the hail of daily events, despite best intentions to “be in the moment” and “stay in the present tense.” Of course we miss hitting important marks, get sidetracked by things that seems oh so urgent but which turn out, when finished, not as life-and-death as we thought they were. Coming up short is a feature, not a fault, and no matter how intentional we wish to be, our intentions get melted down by the grind of the daily.
Rather than “living in the present tense,” I live “in departure,” I try to live as if this were my actual last day on earth (which it very well could be), and I would like to harbor no regrets if I don’t wake up in the morning. In some respects, this hearkens back to my old Catholic school teaching about confession: it’s less about declaring your apology for having sinned than about having a clean soul in case the world decides to snatch you away unexpectedly. No regrets.
But at the other end are the welcomings, and these are sweet, not only because they bring joy but also because (because nothing in human life is ever a straight line) the joy gives us a fleeting reprieve from our doubts and regrets. (Probably more of the joy comes from the reprieve than from the solid presence of the person walking into my embrace.) For that moment, all moments are present tense, time not moving forward or back but hovering, a short-lived cleansing before “now” turns into “next.”
We need departures and arrivals in our lives, else things become a grey churn. They may be laced with irony and hedging (I will miss him when he leaves but enjoy the time alone; it’s great to have her back, but I will miss the solitude), but they give things shape and edge, something humans want even if they complain about it.