Sunday, June 16, 2013


Past and Present Reflections, Emporia, KS

Hugs, Handshakes & Good Conversation

I just returned to the Kansas City area where I lived for thirty years before moving to the Carolinas fifteen years ago. Stepping outside the airport terminal where I may have come and gone about one hundred times initiates the memory recall odyssey. As I sense the wind waving in nearby tree branches, I’m reminded that this land has a haunting familiarity unique to my existence. These same shuttle buses that previously carried me to the satellite parking lot to retrieve my personal car now detour to the new central rental facility. It occupies land that I passed multiple times which contained shimmering prairie grasslands moving in concert with the vast green inland ocean.

After negotiating an upgrade, I exit onto familiar interstate highways for the surreal drive past the somewhat familiar city skyline before I blend into the suburbs we roamed for many years. I traversed these streets when I moved to the area after college graduation and then after marriage, childbirth, three apartments, three houses and two different employers. When I enter some streets their signs and buildings register as known images. And then totally foreign images of intersections, shopping centers and office complexes confuse and obscure my mind’s GPS system recall.

I check into a hotel room instead of driving home. I’ve arrived alone as I did at the outset almost fifty years ago as the circle of life continues its relentless course through time and space. The local news is always a conundrum. Young energetic anchors have morphed into older men and women with graying hair. Fresh faces have been overlaid with carefully sculpted character lines. The voices are familiar but the images; not so much.

As I drive south toward our last home neighborhood, the expected landmarks have been obliterated and completely replaced with expanded round-about intersections surrounded by familiar retail brands that have seemingly sprung up overnight while I apparently lapsed into a deep Rip Van Winkle sleep. Instead of driving home to greet my wife and daughter, I find life has happened. I stop at the Memorial Gardens to pause at my wife’s and my final resting place. The eternal rustle of leaves from the nearby oak tree provides a serene background sound, masking the nearby traffic.

It has become a somber homecoming, but then I join old friends to share a meal, a hug, a handshake and good conversation. Later, I circle back to the airport to pick up my daughter and son-in-law arriving on a flight from Chicago. The next morning we drive together to my hometown birthplace in central Kansas for a family wedding where hugs, handshakes and good conversation over dinner again lightens the load as the circle of life continues to rotate through time. I read wisdom scripture in the old stone Lutheran church where I was confirmed and we gathered with cousins to recite “good news” scripture at Christmas time. We drive to the reception through the once bustling Main Street thriving with family businesses which has now been abandoned as shoppers converge on the ubiquitous Wal-Mart on the edge of town.

As I fly back to the Carolinas, I arrive at the airport where I used to pick up rental cars on business trips. New friends and neighbors now drive me to and from my present home with hugs, handshakes and good conversation. I’m reminded that we may never get completely comfortable with our surroundings on this planet which we call home. This may explain a lingering anxiety that hovers just below the surface of our daily lives. Perhaps we shouldn’t even attempt to strive for it, as these environs are very temporary at best. And our permanent home actually resides on the other side of the thin veil that separates it from whatever reality our senses perceive around us.

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