My earliest memories of travelling were at 3 1/2 years of age, returning from the United States to Iran with a stop in London. My mother had just finished her doctorate in optometry and both my parents were anxious to return to teach and serve their country.
I wasn’t aware of these details then; all I knew was that the PanAm flight had been fun, and my brother at the ripe age of 4 1/2, whom I followed to the end of the world, had once again made it into the cockpit and earned himself some wings. The next memory is sitting on our suitcases in front of an old building with a lady with a weird accent in a grey,cold and moist city. Apparently, she wasn’t going to let us in to where we had to stay for the night. I was tired, hungry and cold, and would occasionally complain, but at the core of my being I knew that my parents would come through for us, because they always had.
I am sure there was a successful resolution to that ordeal, and during the next 55 years, they led us through many other harrowing challenges, most important of which was leaving the country more or less intact after the 1979 Iranian revolution and making a home away from home for us in Berkeley. They did that lovingly, always putting our wellbeing ahead of their own ambitions.
We returned last night from my parents’ sixtieth wedding anniversary celebration in Costa Rica, which had been momentous. However, our return trip was through Houston, and I finally saw the break in their armor. My father, of close to 90, who already has many joint problems and broken bones in his spine, but he always manages to crack a joke in the most distressing situations, was uncharacteristically quiet. If you have never entered the United States through Houston International, avoid it at all costs. Without exaggeration, it takes about an hour to go through various security points, travelling a long distance on foot (thankfully in wheelchairs for both parents), carrying luggage, unloading and reloading. His body was exhausted in between when there was no wheelchair, because both his shoulders hurt when he uses his walker and his back and knee hurt without the walker. My mother who now has various overriding toes and a very painful knee, had apparently half broken a toenail during the journey and was also challenged if not on a wheelchair. If all their children and grandchildren hadn’t helped them during this trip it would never had come to fruition.
Until SFO, we had kept it together, and had declared the trip a tremendous success, but when we landed at past 11 p.m. the final blow was struck. No wheelchairs at the jetway, despite our many reiterations to the airline; their answer, too many landings. Both of my parents, who seemed to be using the restroom more frequently now, used the facilities on the airplane while waiting, but my mother could barely walk; they probably were aware of the waiting flight attendants and the passengers ready to board outside. An hour later, finally one person showed up and we went and got another one, with my husband pushing, because still the other airline wheelchair person had not showed up. Around twelve midnight we waited in the cold foggy dark city of San Francisco for a Lyft or Uber driver, who were impossible to find because of the many arrivals. I could see that the complete joy they had felt a day ago had been squeezed out of them, by both physical pain and psychological exhaustion. They were similar to us 55 years ago, but without the luxury of a youthful body, with our roles reversed. They completely trusted us to be able to figure the new reality of airplane travel post 9/11 and COVID, but still managed to give us reassuring comments and statements of concerns about our health. My older brother who is living with them to take care of them, having rented his own house, was the one to help them to go up fifty steps into their home, reporting back to us that they had made it.
I haven’t checked on them yet today, because I know they are in deep sleep, but feel both privileged, overjoyed, and sad to have gone on this last big family trip with them. These giants of their fields and my heart are going through the path that we all must go through, with grace and dignity. Despite the ravages of age on their bodies, their souls remain intact and I love them for it.