It is 1966. It was New York. It is humid. Buildings tower above. Traffic shuffles and hoots next to me. My baggage is getting heavier. I am walking slowly. People push past me. I am 18 years old, 3000 miles from home, in an unfamiliar country, knowing no one in this city.
Hot, sticky, tired and not sure where I am, I need to check my directions and recoup. I turn off the busy road, down a street that seems quieter. It is quieter – a lot, lot quieter, and very run-down compared to where I was two minutes before – rubbish in the gutters, unemptied bins, peeling paint. There are people standing in doorways looking at me. Imagined or real, the mood changes from one of hustle and bustle back there to a quiet menace here, I don’t want to walk any further down this street. I need to quickly check where I am and go.
So I reach in my pocket for my address book – the one with all the the addresses and all the telephone numbers I had prepared for the planned $99/99 day Greyhound exploration of the US – the one I had checked last evening – the one I had written directions to the bus station in – the one with the map slipped inside the cover.
No address book – not anywhere; not in my pockets, not in the outside pockets of my back-pack not in the outside pockets of my case.
You know the feeling. The mind starts to reel, there’s a tightening in your tummy just beneath your ribs, a virtual door slams, never to be opened again – a feeling that always casts a deep shadow and always seems to be the first time you have felt it. Not true, of course. Loss happens from the very beginning of our lives and part of maturing is to find ways of handling it. When I was young, I was bad at it. Now I am older I am still not good. And the losses now are big ones – family, friends, acquaintances passing on, and familiar landmarks lost to ‘progress’. They come along in a steady, unwelcome procession.
Now I am standing in a street that has danger written all over it and I find myself rummaging in my suitcase in front of the very people I am concerned about. No luck, no address book, people still staring at me.
Time to get it together – think, think, think, and get out of here. So I do.
What do I do? I remember a distant relative in Point Pleasant, New Jersey, go back to the main street, ask a newspaper seller the way to the bus station, find a phone booth with the standard mountain of phone books and eventually find their address. I hadn’t lost my bus ticket so I get on the next bus to New Jersey and out of New York pretty darn quick.
There is a moment when a loss hits you, then there is a short or long period when you come to accept it and work out how to handle it and then there is another period when you live with it.
Whatever else it does, loss lasts for ever. What you do with it counts.
To be continued . . .