From the day my mind returned I have dreamt of a pilgrimage. This pilgrimage is to the one place I have visited where I can say I found true, transcendent beauty. This place is Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
In the summer of 1996 I visited Jackson as an employee of LEXIS-NEXIS, the computerized legal, corporate and news information firm. Every two years the national conference of law schools deans would meet at the Jackson Lake Lodge in Grand Teton National park for a meeting and fun. My job was to fly the LEXIS flag, gently.
Very little business was accomplished, by design. This trip was a coveted boondoggle and I was honored to be selected to attend.
On my arrival I was struck physically by the grandeur of the place. I had seen many mountains, from Virginia’s ancient Blue Ridge to the teenaged Sierras and Alps. None compared to the raw new-born magnificence of the Tetons. I was in awe.
That week ended too soon, but the memories did not. They remained with me always through the years, haunting me. I knew I must return, on my own terms.
But life, as it does, intruded with striving and achievement and domesticity. The time for the return never came. It did not return until I was freed by AIDS.
In the thirty months since my diagnosis I have learned a lot about this disease. Certainly there are bad points that are difficult to explain to people fed the glowing reports of miracle meds, But I have learned there are advantages. For me the primary advantage is freedom. As Janis Joplin sings, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” I have lost all my material and social constraints and so I am finally free to pursue my dreams.
From July 4 to 22 I will travel the mountains west. My trip will focus on place, not on activities. I will drive great distances through amazing scenery to arrive at stops with meaning to me. The final, and longest stop, will be In Jackson Hole. I will see if today lives up to yesterday. I pray it will.
You will follow me here on PositiveLite.com, my wonderful new home of the mind. I hope you enjoy the pilgrimage.
As I neared my seat at the back of the plane my heart rose in my throat. There, seated on the aisle in the row where I was destined for the window was a mom holding what appeared to be a new born child. Dios mio!. She’d be a screamer no doubt.
When Mom and I were settled we struck up a pleasant conversation. She was 44 and had just given birth to her first child. She spoke of the anxiety that her age placed her unborn child at risk. She stressed most the joy she and her husband felt with their 6-month old, Grace. Grace was nothing like I feared. She was happily sucking a pacifier, quiet as a mouse. Mom passed her over to her husband across the aisle and we began to speak.
Mom’s name was Jennifer. She and he husband TJ were married ten years ago. Successful careers led to the expected complications - late hours, time away from home, time away from love. Last year, noticing her age, Jennifer decided to take the risk.
She was well-educated in the risks for a late-life mother. Statistics show that birth defects are much more common in children born to women over 40. Down Syndrome in particular is a curse. Jennifer knew this and her doctor counseled her, advising caution, cautiously attempting to dissuade her from her plans to give birth. But her doctor, like so many in her profession with whom we all have experience, underestimated Jennifer’s resolve and the power of her educated choice.
Jennifer and TJ conceived and the pregnancy proceeded without complication. Grace was born healthy and strong. Jennifer’s faith was validated and now she glows with a new mother’s love and joy.
In our talk I explained my plans. We learned we would share the next flight from Charlotte to Denver. Our conversation slowed as the flight droned on. From my window seat, I looked out at the glorious day, perfectly speckled with fluffy cumulus. The sun was bright and the air clear. “Jennifer,” I said, “Look! See the shadows of the clouds!.” She did and we shared the view, dark shadows preceding their makers across the green fields of southern Virginia. It was a special time and seemed to seal our new friendship.
Our flight landed and soon I was re-boarded on the next. On this I had been assigned a dreaded middle seat and my mind filled with fears of two corpulent flankers. But no, once again fate smiled. In the window was Laura, a woman of my age who was friendly from Go. In the aisle was no one. I grabbed the seat with a commitment to move if needed, and waited anxiously. Minutes ticked by and then I heard the call to close the hatch. I was in the clear!
Laura and I chatted comfortably throughout the flight. She admitted to a Republican bias, I to a Democratic one. Jointly we settled on “Progressive/Libertarian” which suited us both. We solved the world’s problems, from hunger to unemployment, disease and homelessness and on landing we were satisfied with our work. A real connection developed and we swapped our “stuff.” I told her about me, my disease and my work with PositiveLite.com. She was blasé about the gory parts, my favorite type of reaction to this topic. We parted as real friends, with a very nice hug.
Leaving the plane I marveled at my luck. Faced with two certainly uncomfortable accommodations I instead met wonderful people- of all ages - and enjoyed the two best flights of my life. I prayed that this augured well for my pilgrimage.
But it was not to be. After deplaning, I collected my bag and took the shuttle to the Hertz rental counter. Checking in I noticed a problem. A loose crowd of people stood in front of the counter. I asked if this was the line. “No”, I was told. This was the crowd of people who had paid and who could not get a car. Hertz it seemed had underestimated the July 4 demand for cars and had dramatically overbooked. The rental agent told me that since I only had a reservation I was at the end of the line and no promises could be made. I was on my own 90 miles from my hotel in Colorado Springs.
And so I bulled through, as I do. I called a cab, a very expensive one I reckoned. In only 10 minutes it arrived and we set out.
My driver was Maktar, an immigrant from Eritrea, on the Horn of Africa. He was a US citizen and owned his taxi. He and I did the math and figured the meter would read just under $200 when we arrived. Money, it seems, can cure any ill.
I started in on Maktar, quizzing him on his roots, his family and the political and social conditions of his native land. He began by correcting my pronunciation of “Eritrea.” I placed emphasis on the third syllable when it belonged on the second. That reminded me of the flap concerning the pronunciation of ”Qatar” during the first Gulf War.
Maktar was simply a gem and our conversation made the time fly. I learned much about his culture, his pride in his citizenship and his plans to help his family at home with his earnings. His story was a stereotype of how immigration once was portrayed, before viperous politics spoiled the accomplishments of so many.
On the way I did the math. I didn't have to pay for a car or gas and so my net loss from this fiasco would be only $80. That would make me feel better, if only I could get a car in Colorado Springs. I checked into the hotel and crashed, exhausted.