It is the morning of Thanksgiving Day. I am writing in an airport, waiting in the holding pen in front of Gate 25 for the announcement that my 8:00 am flight to St. Louis will start boarding. I can see the South Bay from the window of the terminal, spots of it shimmering under the sun, which has just finished creeping along the horizon and shot up to the cloud line. It is in moments like this, moments when I am leaving, that I realize why I live in the Bay Area.
It is too early to text. Too early to talk to family or connect with friends. There are no e-mails to check. No essays to grade. No articles to write. There is nothing I need to do in this moment other than be.
At the airport.
Sipping an almond latte and tapping words into a keyboard.
I have not felt this way for a long time, maybe since the last time I was at an airport, temporarily suspended between two lives—the one I used to have and the one I’m still trying to form. But even then there was work to do. There were applications to fill out, pitches to write, people to circle back with before opportunities were lost. There was a laundry list of expectations to meet, most of which were my own.
But not today. Not here. Not now.
Even I do not expect me to work on a holiday, and when I stop myself from working, I free myself to dream.
Last night between washing up dishes, finishing laundry and packing for five days in Wisconsin, I braved the lampless storage room in search of a single box of Christmas decorations. I’m typically pretty strict about fleeing from any hint of Christmas until the day after Thanksgiving, but last night I gave myself grace to anticipate early. I flipped on the kettle, queued up Spotify, dug out the socks I only wear in December—bright red cotton with little white snowmen—and opened the same cardboard box in which I have stored Christmas since I was six years old. The contents have changed over the past two decades, but many of the items have been there as long as I can remember. At one point my personal Christmas collection filled multiple storage bins. Now only this one box is left.
I pulled out a tiny tree trimmed in white twinkle lights, a faded red stocking, a nutcracker doll, and a small ceramic nativity. Unpacking Christmas when you are one person in one room is a mixed bag of emotions. I thought of all the places my little treasures had traveled—all the homes in which we have lived—and I marveled that this is where we ended up.
As I took down picture frames and tacked up holiday cards, a whirl of nostalgia sent me rushing down the path of Amanda’s Christmas Past. It is well-worn, this trail of memories, littered with wrapping paper, cookie crumbs, and mascara-stained tissues. I’ve been there often, maybe too often. Tried re-living those memories too many times.
But this morning at the airport, I am not sinking into nostalgia, caught up in memories, driven to achieve, or compelled to make the most out of anything.
I am open. Waiting.
And in those precious unoccupied, expectation-free moments, I feel something quite different from the day-to-day rush, the month-to-month slog or the holiday nostalgia. Something almost like excitement.
There is an ember of joy barely burning in my belly, a small speck of light that I thought had gone out months ago. I am not sure what set it off—the freedom of an empty screen, the unpacking of Christmas, the thought of my toe-headed niece and dark-eyed nephew running to meet me on the other side of security—but I don’t want it to go out. I want to fan it into flame, grow it into a fire that I can warm my hands over and invite others to cozy up to. I think maybe it is freedom. Maybe it is happiness. Maybe it is Christmas.
And then I realize—
It is hope.
Hope, back like a perennial flower that has survived another winter. Like a soldier gone to war, finally home once again. It is a great mystery that I may never understand, how something so elusive and fragile can be so pervasive and resilient.
I am reminded of a line from a song about redemption:
Though hope is frail, it’s hard to kill.
This is my redemption. This is my salvation. Month after month. Season after season. Year after year. Even on the days I am certain hope has been lost, gone missing for so long that I don’t dare believe it will return, it never completely dies down.
This is what I ponder in the early hours of Thanksgiving, before the travel, the time change, and the turkey that is passed round the table. I do not cling to hope—I am too afraid to do that; afraid that hope will flee like an animal at the threat of captivity. Instead, I hold my hands open. I stretch them over the embers of a slowly-growing fire with the precarious trust that it will fan into flame.