Stuck in transit? How art, stories and a little help from my friends can provide solace through the transition and uncertainty of 2020

This was first published at the mwah. blog -https://mwah.live/blog/stuck-in-transit

There is a certain irony in referencing the following movie as most of us now dream of airports… but I am going to do it anyway. Tom Hanks in the 2004 movie The Terminal got stuck in JFK Airport in NYC. Partially inspired by the true story of the 18-year old Mehran Karimi Nasseri who ended up staying in Terminal 1 of Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport, from 1988 to 2006, this movie documents the journey of getting stuck in transition and learning to create a home in the space ‘in between’.

As humans, this is a tough space to sit in. We’re wired towards growth, momentum and many of us crave certainty – that we will indeed land in the next destination. We don’t want to be stuck at the airport with nowhere to go, overpriced coffee, an average sandwich and an undetermined delay on our flight to the next destination. But this where we’ve found ourselves.

Stuck in transit – The 2020 dilemma

We all boarded the plane for 2020 with certain dreams, plans and things we were going to do. Now we’re unwittingly all stuck in transit together. Weddings cancelled, funerals not attended, travel plans delayed, big events put on hold indefinitely, and dreams not met.

Many of us came into 2020 with big expectations – of ourselves, our next steps and the world around us. Many of those expectations haven’t been met – a tough pill to swallow. So, how do we learn to embrace the holding pattern we’ve found ourselves in (in lockdown and out of lockdown and back again), that appears to be extending into the new year?

This week I set out to find inspiration in art and stories for how to make sense of being caught in transition and how to go about realigning our expectations to find solace, peace and maybe even joy in being in transition together.

Surrendering to uncertainty – Patience, waiting and T.S. Eliot’s take on transition.

There is a beautiful T.S. Eliot poem called East Coker. I first heard it read by Ralph Fiennes. It speaks to the space that sits between one ending and the start of new beginning. Parts of East Coker read…

“I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing…

In order to arrive at what you do now know
You must go by a way which is of ignorance.
In order to possess what you do not possess
You must go by the way of dispossession.

In order to arrive at what you are not
You must go through the way in which you are not.
And what you do not know is the only thing you know
And what you own is what you do not own.
And where you are is where you are not.”

This year is forcing so many of us to surrender to the uncertain and to realise so much of life sits outside of our control. This letting go and relinquishing of control or momentum is tough and naturally anxiety provoking for so many people. In the words of the serenity prayer we are needing to “accept the things we cannot change, to have the courage to change the things we can and to have the wisdom to know the difference”.  This is easier said than done.

Emotional motion sickness – The sprint that turned into a marathon, that’s now the status quo.

Letting go, changing plans and making sense of an unknown future is tiring. I think singer Phebe Bridges describes the atrophy of emotions so many people are going through at the moment around 2020 and lockdowns in particular well. She says I have emotional motion sickness – somebody roll the windows down”. Whether it’s politics, COVID-19 or global fights for equality and justice – it has been an emotional year and it continues to be.

Our DNA is wired to the land, to run free, to sit in silence, to hear the ocean and to spend our time exploring and laughing together. It’s natural that this pandemic has rocked our psyches, in a way that so many people haven’t experienced before.

When it comes to expectations around getting out of transition, we were begrudgingly okay with a 3 or even 6-month delay on our plans. But now we’re quickly having to reset and reconstruct this transition into a new home – we’re having to get used to living at the airport without a time for our scheduled departure into an open world without COVID. This requires a change of spirit, a reframe and a new way of looking at the world.

The long road the sea in Iran – Lessons from Chalus Road

I often get impatient when I’m driving. I want to get from A to B as fast as I can. That’s why this story from my Iranian friend really hit home for me. He loves the car. The joy of winding the windows down and watching the world go by (preferably with the music playing really loud). As a kid he would take trips to the sea with his family. Taking Chalus Road in Northern Iran they would spend the day driving to the sea. He stressed the beach wasn’t the big adventure. The adventure was the road. They would stop at every corner shop, sample the teas, buy trinkets and a snack from different local vendors all the way along with road.

For me traffic is a delay, for him it was the opportunity to find, spot or do something new – he basked in the traffic and the delay. While the old adage of it’s about the journey not the destination makes most of us want to vomit, it’s painstakingly true. To make sense of this evolving pandemic perhaps lies in finding ways to enjoy what the shifting sands and transitions look like, because we don’t know how long it’s going to last. This requires a new level of patience and a way of seeing beauty and life in simple things. We’re all having to reframe not just our expectations, but having to choose to notice, value and to find joy in the things we might have previously overlooked.

Among the trees and filled with light – Mary Oliver’s take on self-care and finding peace.

As humans we need to tread carefully with our hearts as we move through transition – it takes energy and courage. For this we need a heightened level of TLC or self-care. Too much time spent out of the comfort zone requires an equal amount of space and time spent reconnecting with ourselves and those we love. For this, I feel for those separated from their families and loved ones for such a long time throughout 2020.

We all have different things in our week that we do to stay well and more than ever this period is reminding us that we need to prioritise being well, and finding ways amidst the uncertainty to feel safe and connected. As a simple ode to connecting with the simple things in life, I can never go past this beautiful poem by Mary Oliver.

When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.

I would almost say that they save me, and daily.

I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.

Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.

And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”

While we all sit collectively at the airport waiting for the flight out of COVID, it’s a least nice to see all of the innovative and exciting ways people are thinking of to connect with themselves and the world around them. Humans are an innovative bunch. Give us a wall and we’ll find our way around. This is similar with COVID – I have faith that we will keep finding ways to better connect with ourselves and the world. This is part of our DNA – to adapt and grow, even in the most challenging of contexts.

Zac Efron, friends and good friends – We’re all in this together.

An article is not complete when you haven’t referenced Zac Efron, High School Musical and Friends – so here goes. It is true to say Zac was right in singing “we’re all in this together” and that “together is where we belong”. It’s corny, but it’s the truth. Airports are always much more bearable and funnier when you have a companion. Someone to laugh with. Someone’s shoulder to sleep on. Someone to approve of your duty-free splurge.

This year has been pretty shitty for lots of people and to make it through this we need a little help from our friends (yes this is a Beatles reference)! I particularly love the cover version of the Friends Theme song “I’ll Be there for you” by Maisie Peters. In it she describes how a lot of people feel about 2020 – it’s…

“like you’re always stuck in second gear.. It hasn’t been your day, your week, your month of even your year, but I’ll be there for you”.

Whether it is sitting in the airport departures lounge, the winding roads of Iran, sitting in the trees or navigating the uncertainty of what 2021 is going to look like for you – you are not alone. This is a big moment in time and we’re all sitting in that departures lounge together wondering what is going to happen in 2021? We’re all wrestling with how to reframe and reconsider what we value and how to enjoy life in a world shrouded by the Pandemic. This isn’t an easy task and requires more conscious thought around wellbeing, community and how do we really, really connect and make it meaningful.

I think all of this lands with two simple questions..

  1. While you sit here in the airport in between the pre and post COVID worlds, what can we all do to look after ourselves and to strive to make the most of this strange time with grace, courage and grit?
  2. How can we use this moment in time to connect more deeply with people in our lives and to be there for when the going is getting tough?

Noble Lauriate Ilya Prigogine said that uncertainty is at the heart of human creativity. This gives me hope for 2021, because as we all sit together in transition, everything starts to become possible, especially when we we’re all in it together.

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