I just embarked on a 24hr whirlwind trip to Portland. Last minute deciding to hop the train and celebrate a dear friend’s birthday. I refuse to miss the chances to rejoice those I love. Even when the finances may be impractical, and the push after a long week of candles burnt at both ends ill-advised, I will still find the way.
In traveling I find peace, a grace I can’t always obtain when inert. Michelle, the gal in front of me in the line at King Station was the first victim of my invasive friendliness. She was on her way to Eugene to visit family. We chatted as the cue inched along. She offered her luggage cart to ease my shoulder’s burden. The simple generosities of people on my mind, I couldn’t’ help but smile. On the platform, we said goodbye and parted to separate cars.
Once under way my seat companion Dany, heading to the food car, offer to buy me a beer. I gratefully accepted. We talked about our careers. His journey from DC to Syria to Lebanon, then on to Paris and London, eventually landing full circle back in DC. He was in Seattle for a summer internship with Amazon. He talked of the tech world, an environment that changed daily. I talked of working in finance amid his texting his girlfriend. Apparently, they were in a bit of a row. At some point their communication demanded his full attention and I put on some tunes and set into my favorite pastime people watching.
The gentleman across the aisle from me in his mid-sixties seemed to be going through many beers, whether in preparation for or in reaction to some event I couldn’t tell. He alternated between working on his laptop, reading Scorpions: The Battles and Triumphs of FDR’s Great Supreme Court Justices, and pursuing Bumble.
Down the aisle there sat a group of guys obviously on a boy’s weekend getaway. Juxtaposed by a group of young mother’s making their own escape and trying to soothe their tired infants. I couldn’t avoid giggling at the happenstance.
Portland was hotter that Seattle by nearly 10 degrees. Suddenly I wished I had changed out of my work clothes while throwing together my bug-out bag. Though I’d barely time to grab clean underwear, a bottle of bubbly (priorities), and pajamas before ubering back to finish my work day and take care of the necessities of month end at market close.
I checked into my room at the Benson hotel. Admiring my gorgeous corner suite, I had to share with a friend through facetime. We would have to stay there again on another trip, one with perhaps some pre-planning. I was paying for one hell of a crash pad.
I meandered towards my girlfriends apartment; Forgoing the free wine in the hotel lobby. With a quick stop into Powell’s Books for a read my brother recommended. Something for the train home I thought.
I’d come to celebrate my friends B-day though she was resistant, wanting this to simply be one of their regular summer rooftop barbecues. My showing up last minute put a kink in her internal resistances. We laughed, cooked and chatted. As is protocol everyone arrived with a bottle of champagne. Her new husband, upon learning there were whiskey drinkers among us, myself included, brought out his private stash. And I was introduced to the Gigi, a glorious mix of whiskey and champagne. How did I not know of this before?
I made fast friends of new acquaintances. The kind with whom you instantly connect as if you’ve always been in one another’s lives, kindred spirits. We exchanged contact information and promised to carve time for more discovery.
Evening descended. The warm breeze easing and the half-moon arising. The string of lights along the rooftop deck lending ambience. As too the Whole Foods neon sign and music arising from the neighboring bar. The night drifted to a close with hugs and tears. Perhaps a little too much champagne aiding our effusiveness.
I strive to be vulnerable, more open emotionally, even at the risk of being hurt. This is part of my growth since cancer. I want my heart to remain open to myself, to others, and to this glorious universe I am still blessed to walk amongst. This goes for the days when everything is crashing down on me. The days I wish to be a Rom-Com and my friends need to remind me I’m still and forever going to be a foreign film. When I can’t seem to live by my own best advice. When time feels short. And words lost.
Back at my hotel suite I wished for more time. To go to the Blues Festival and explore more of a city I love. Settling into the sheets I lamented not being able to enjoy that glorious bed for but a few hours. With more than enough pillows for me to prop myself comfortably at my new 45 degree sleeping angle, I was embraced and quickly drifted off.
I arose before 6, jumped in the shower and then checked out of the hotel. I headed towards my favorite bakery. I love walking empty city streets; the stillness before the rise of dawn. Like the blue hour this is another cherished respite.
I seem incapable of making a trip to Portland without going to Little Red’s Bakeshop. Ritual or compulsion matters not. I must have one of their delectable treats before leaving. And if you ever make way to the City of Roses I suggest you do the same.
Sidled up to the window bar I ate half my ham and cheese croissant, drank a cup of coffee and talked to the girls, two of whom had attended the party. Adding a little more social time to what we’d begun the evening before. I bought a cinnamon roll for the train and a box of 4th of July cookies to share with friends while celebrating our Independence. Then ubered to the station, too much to juggle at this point via foot.
My seat companion on the ride home was a 70-year-old woman named Joyce. She was on her way to visit a 94-year-old friend. The last living person to know the Frank family personally; Otto Frank a groomsman in her wedding. We talked about world War II, the Nazi occupation. She shared a story of a man who’d given German passports to Jews if they had even one grandparent that was not Jewish. He forged them a way out of the country, saving 30,000 some lives. I told her of my Grandfather’s sojourn as an original MASH surgeon making his way from Africa up through France, eventually liberating Buchenwald.
We talked of gardening. Life in communes. And her anti-nuclear activism. Which turned to irony when her cancer demanded radiation. We discussed the complexities of the human spirit, health and love, her career as a psychiatrist and nurse. Our cancer journeys and the changes it brought to our lives as well as those around us. How important it was for us as citizens of the world to share with one another.
Eventually she took a much-needed rest, inflating her neck pillow and snuggling under a brightly colored Arapahoe blanket. I retreated to the pages of my new book. By the end of chapter one I was in tears.
As the train pulled back into King Station we collected our things. Joyce turned to me and shared that she too had an Angel theory. That Angels arrive in our lives when needed for the briefest of encounters. Sometimes you are the angel for another. “Today” she said, “You are my angel”. And I knew she too was mine, our time precious.
Because I had been low of late, lost in comparisons. Forgetting all that I have achieved, all that I have and do give to those around me. Sometimes self-worth is a fickle friend. She’d reminded me through reflection what I have to offer another soul.
Once home the smell of fresh flowers greeted me. Awakening memories of the past few days spent with cherished loved ones. And I’d yet another dear friend arriving this evening. I smiled knowing how blessed I truly am. And for the first time in a while the words flowed.