For my semester off from graduate school at NC State, I moved to Indiana to be with my family. I used to go back and visit North Carolina monthly, however. Without fail, I left North Carolina in tears every time. I would arrive at the airport with puffy eyes and a red nose and then search for privacy in crowded restrooms and terminals buzzing with travelers. I didn’t realize this until just this month, but I think that this resulted into a fear of airports and planes.
I’m not afraid of the actual process of flying, but my memories of airports and planes are riddled with arguments, sobbing, and deep breathing to prevent panic attacks that were just around the corner. I would call friends, watch funny videos, and read inspirational quotes on Pinterest to get me through the trip. I always arrived home feeling exhausted and empty. My parents would ask how the trip went; I had already spent the day trying to detach myself from the details of the pain I had brought with me back to Indiana- I never wanted to relive it with them.
I’m still unable to shake the anxiety that comes with being in an airport. Understandably, it’s the worst when I’m traveling to or from North Carolina, and when I am in an airport associated with those trips (Charlotte, Atlanta, Raleigh/Durham).
For that reason, I begged my parents to let me drive to NC this time around.
(Pause. Please ignore the fact that all of this appears so calm and dark. Yes, I met Trevor Noah and yes he is amazing and so nice and I’m shaking and sweating and can’t focus at ALL. Alright, let’s continue).
My parents were hesitant but agreeable- until I had a severe back spasm at work two weeks ago. Some pain and stiffness remains even now and for that reason, my parents were not willing to budge- if I was going to NC, I was going by plane. Even worse, they asked me to get to the airport 3-4 hours early to avoid any potential issues, as I’ve never flown through Nashville alone.
I will never argue with my parents again.
I got to the airport 3 and a half hours early, as advised. I thanked the TSA officer at the beginning of security and moved into a line to have my things checked. In front of me I saw what looked like a very familiar back of someone’s head. I had to know. So, I got closer to see if he had an accent.
The host of The Daily Show was less than a foot away from me and on the phone talking about Trump and China and Turkey and I couldn’t believe that this was real life. He put his phone down into the security bin and I figured this would be my one chance to say hello before he continued his call. “Excuse me.” He whipped his head around and looked surprised. “I’m a huge fan and-“ “Sir, you can come through now.” The security lady had blown my chance.
He and I passed through security and retrieved our bags. He put his phone back to his ear and continued talking (he put the phone through the security line without hanging up! – it was awesome) and I figured that that was it. He knew I had tried to say hello and did not turn around again, and I instantly felt badly for taking up any of his time.
But THEN, he turned around and smiled a huge smile and waved. TREVOR NOAH WAVED AT ME. I was shocked. Again. At this point, there was no turning back. I was going to interrupt his phone call. And so I did. And asked for a picture.
And he was so gracious.
He handed me his phone while he took mine. We then went through about a minute of trying to get my phone to cooperate and for the love of God just stay on the camera app. There are a million things that I wish I’d said during that time but I’m just so grateful that he was patient and stuck with it. “Your phone is really adamant about joining this network.”
I thanked Trevor (we’re on first name basis, of course) and he smiled and went on his way, once again continuing his conversation about whatever political mess I’ll be sad-laughing about tomorrow night as I watch his show.
Then, I looked at the picture.
I hate it.
Now, I will say, Trevor is no supermodel in the picture either (sorry, T). We’re both staring directly into the sun thanks to the wall-sized window across from us. We haven’t moved from our spots in the security line and others are no doubt trying to maneuver around us. It took us a while to get the camera to work, so I never really put much time into my smile. Yes, I often have to remind myself how to smile in pictures to avoid looking…well, too much like myself, I guess.
I posted the picture on my Instagram page before I had the chance to second-guess myself. Because the second I looked at it, I started to make a mental list of my imperfections. My face looks larger in this picture than in so many others. I have a hat on and I was too worried about hat-hijab to take it off, so I turned my chin upward to keep the shadow off of half my face- not my best angle. No make-up, tired eyes.
Genuine smile, though.
It’s kind of amazing. I was working a shift at the hospital that I wasn’t originally planning on being available for. It was my last patient before my lunch break, I could have just tried to come back to her later. I worked with the patient anyway. I didn’t bother to lift her bed to protect my back and had a terrible spasm as a result. I almost canceled the entire trip but understood that I was coming for a friend, not for myself, and could not cancel. This led to booking a flight. That flight. Out of an airport 3 hours from my house. I felt insecure at the local mall and came to the airport hours early. I’ve never been this early for a flight. I chose one security line and then changed my mind and went for another- even though it had more people. For weeks God has been setting me up to meet someone whose face greets me every night through my TV and brings me laughs on days good and bad.
And yet, I choose to focus on the fact that I look “terrible” in the picture. I’ve looked at it quite a few times now and keep forgetting that Trevor Noah (TREVOR NOAH) is even in it. All I can focus on is my face and how it could be different. Slimmer, brighter, whatever.
I wish I could say that this taught me some grand lesson about accepting yourself and focusing on the good things that are happening. Moments like these frustrate me because they could be so much more enjoyable if I do achieve recovery (I almost wrote that they would be more enjoyable if I were skinnier or worked out harder- I almost believe that too).
I am going to try to see the blessing in this moment. Maybe this is to show me where I am in my recovery right now. Maybe this is a test to see how I react and if I can do so with patience. And then, the lesson will come. I have faith in that fact and I refuse to waver.
“We’ll be right back.”