There’s a feeling on late summer evenings where the air is like silk or a warm, salty pool of water, and you can’t tell where your skin ends and everything else begins. It’s especially lovely slicing through the city on my little red Hercules bike, the whipping wind more like a caress against bare skin. It’s the feeling of absolute freedom, a briefly endless moment where nothing matters but sensation.
I’d give anything for that feeling now. But I’m in an airplane, just jutting over a cusp of land and leaving Germany behind. The air has that strange quality of being both clammy and dry, singing my nose as I breathe it in. But it’s more than the air, it’s how I feel – shoulders tensed, brain a whirl of jostling pulses. I’m not sure which hysteria to tip into – should I cry or laugh – at the absurdity of the situation I find myself in.
For the first time, I’ve missed a flight. An international one, no less. But what a surreal experience, without frantic or rush – until the fateful moment when my brain clicked and realized what it had done.
As a meticulous planner, I checked my ticket – multiple times – checked my passport, checked my route to the airport. I wrote out a list: when to set my alarm, when to to leave the apartment, when I’d arrive at the airport. And yet, while my brain registered that my flight took off at 7 a.m., my brain also registered that I had to be at the airport at 7 a.m. Clearly, two completely contradictory pieces of information – that my brain held in tandem, without realizing how impossible it was.
So I missed my flight and am on a new flight trying to start my now significantly more expensive trip. And though I land in JFK instead of Newark – the airline personnel in Berlin, having never been to any of the trifecta of New York airports, not really understanding that all New York airports are not alike – I think I’ve figured out how to get to Baltimore by day’s end. It’s not ideal, but I’ll get where I’m going – and all in all, only about four hours after I was intended to arrive.
But that’s just logistics. And you might say, money is just money – though an international flight is a breathtaking sum on a part-time translator’s salary. What interests me most right now is this emotional choice – this teetering pull I feel to throw myself away to panic and blame on the one hand, and on the other, accept that this is where I am and enjoy the next 24 hours of travel as my meticulous travel self had so carefully intended.
It’s a question that’s been on my mind lately – most vividly in those moments when I’m flying down the street on my little red bike, feeling free and feeling that life is easy. It’s a remarkable sensation for me, because I’m not often so at peace. I’m always thinking – the little brain that got me into so much trouble this morning is always churning, always making lists. I don’t resent its activity – because it’s also always dreaming and seeing and inspiring me to pursue new things. But it can be tiring, to wade through this constant flutter of activity and anxiety.
So I’ve been trying to isolate those moments when my soul is truly content. Riding downhill on my bike. Writing in the moment my mind clicks into focus and can think only on the turn of one phrase into the next. Breathing in the crisp, September morning air that reminds me of new school days and apples with bite. In the kitchen, scrubbing dirt from potatoes, frying onions, the tedious task of stuffing won-tons with pork and squinching each one shut with my fingers. No matter how simple or complex a recipe, I’m at peace when I cook.
That’s not to say things don’t ever go wrong in the kitchen. The other day, I tried to recreate a dip we’d had in Santorini – favosalata, a smooth, blended paste of tiny yellow split peas, lemon, olive oil, and garlic topped with capers and sliced raw red onion. But forgetting that the blender is broken, I made do with the immersion blender, flinging tiny chunks of peas all over the freshly-swept kitchen floor. It was so impossible, I had to laugh – the floor literally littered with yellow pellets.
But sitting down to eat in front of the big kitchen window – I felt at peace there, too, beside the bursting life of the potted plants – the bushy basil and chives, sprawling mint. And though a little coarser than I might have liked, the favosalata was good – salty and tart with a kick from the capers and onions. There was warm pita bread to dip and a spoonful of jam in thick Greek yogurt for dessert.
Life is good. It really is. And I am blessed beyond belief in it.
Now, as I’m heading to New York once more – having not lived there for five whole years – I think back on the first time I really realized that when it comes to how we see life, we always have a choice. I had just missed my train, stumbling down the subway stairs after a long work shift right as the doors were hissing shut. At first, I felt rage – an absolutely disproportionate rage. If only I had run down the stairs faster, if only I hadn’t said goodbye to my co-worker, if only the woman walking in front of me had just picked up her plodding feet. But none of those things had happened. I had missed my train, and no amount of anger at myself or anyone else would open up those subway doors again.
My last few months had been intense. I was only twenty-three, and yet I’d recently gone to the emergency room because I thought I was having a heart attack. I’d been diagnosed with a stress-induced muscular disorder. I’d had a toddler-like temper tantrum on vacation with my best friends. Myself was feeling more like an ugly caricature drawn in scrawl.
That day, on the platform, I looked around the grimy 14th Street station where the bad busker’s caterwaul was screeching up the line and told myself to spend the next seven minutes just being present rather than broiling about my missed train. There it was, all around me, the pulsing grit of the New York City I loved so much: little children wearing bright, brand new-clothes, the solitary headphoned man slinking his body to an invisible beat, two rats flirting past the rails, iced Starbucks cups dripping with perspiration, dusty toenails peeking out from beat-up leather sandals, the stink of bodies and too much perfume, a greasy bag full of cooling French fries.
When my train finally came rushing into the station, I was surprised at how un-angry I felt. All that rage, blame, and lolling in the land of if-onlys came with a short-term payoff. It might not have felt as good right away, but accepting the thing I couldn’t change had much more lasting effects.
Which brings me back to this airplane seat, to the lime green fleece covering my feet and the in-flight magazine luring me to disappear into a weekend glacier getaway. What should I choose? The urge to berate myself is strong. I can tell it will feel deliciously good to let the panic nibble away at the surface of my skin until I’m crawling with self-loathing and guilt. But I think, instead, I’ll choose to chow down on the chili con carne I can smell rolling down the aisle on that metal cart while watching all three of the Harry Potter movies featured on the flight. And when I get to Baltimore, I’ll enjoy the time I have to visit with family and friends. Maybe I’ll even cook them a meal, reveling in the simple luxury of being together. We’ll eat the favosalata we had in Greece and reminisce about Santorini sitting like a dimple in the ocean.
And if, when I get back to Berlin, I still need a little salve for my soul, I’ll ride my bike down the nearest hill, silk-like wind slipping up my skirt. Because no matter how much poorer I am now than I was a few hours ago, the truest peace doesn’t cost a thing.
I made the mistake of calling this Greek hummus for a while, but the internet quickly set me right as I was searching for a recipe. This version is adapted from Michael Procopio’s very opinionated recipe. Whatever you do, don’t call it hummus.
1 ½ cups yellow split peas
3 cloves whole, peeled garlic
2 ½ cups cold water
½ cups white wine
Juice of 2 lemons
1 tbsp. white wine vinegar
1 tbsp. grated red onion
¼ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. black pepper
1/3 cup olive oil
Sliced red onion, to garnish
Capers, to garnish
Place peas, water, wine, garlic, and a healthy pinch of salt in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for about 35-40 minutes. The peas should be cooked through, but still retain their shape and have some bite.
Strain the peas through a metal sieve, pressing out as much liquid as possible. Blend (along with the garlic they cooked with) in a food processor, then add onion, lemon juice, vinegar, salt, and pepper, and blend again. Slowly add the oil while continuing to blend. The consistency should be similar to that of smooth mashed potatoes. Adjust the seasoning as desired – adding more salt, olive oil, or lemon juice depending on your preferences. Garnish with plenty of sliced red onions and capers.