A Tangible Narnia

I am sitting in an airport which someone has informed me is in London, England. The past six hours were spent in a metal box moving hundreds of miles per hour across a massive ocean, the same ocean that I admired just yesterday from the Boston Harbor. Hundreds of miles of dark blue emptiness lie between me and any familiarity that might be called home. But I might as well be in Boston, New York, or Washington, D.C. From my seat, I can easily spot a Starbucks, Tiffany & Co, a sandwich shop, and a bookstore. Despite the occasional overheard chatter flavored by accents and touristy trinkets in the window of a drugstore, I could be anywhere. The landscape outside—cement, fog, and the occasional patch of green—is unexceptional. Anything could lie outside of this manufactured air-conditioned sanctuary.

Airports create a sort of limbo. When inside, one is not in any particular country or state. One is a traveler, among many other travelers, in an in-between world of linoleum, gift shops, and stale food. I am in this intermediate. I have left the United States and home, but I’m not anywhere yet. Everything that has happened and will happen feels surreal. My mind is aware that I am in London, and I am going to India. But these words—London, India—don’t seem to refer to a real place. They are reminiscent of Narnia: make-believe worlds that don’t exist outside of the books in my backpack. India is about to become tangible, and I haven’t quite wrapped my head around that yet.

Another phenomenon of the temporary world of airports manifests itself in how humans behave when among so much other consciousness. I’m surrounded by people. Lots of people. Bodies sprawl across multiple seats, carefully restrict themselves to the confines of a single chair, leisurely gaze at the illuminated signs topping stores, or rush to catch a flight. But these strangers are as isolated as they would be if physically encased in a tiny glass cubicle. As wanderers pass each other, they dodge and weave without more than a moment of awkward, accidental eye contact. Those travelling alone stare intently at laptop screens or books. Those at the edges of large groups—including ours—subtly angle shoulders in, creating a haven separate from the rest of the world. Even if she is just waiting, every single person seems completely absorbed in herself.

Perhaps so much humanity in one place is overwhelming. Travelers go out of their ways to avoid mutual acknowledgment; recognition of hundreds of surrounding lives would bring uncomfortable truths about one’s own insignificance to light. This habit of self-preoccupation is something I would like to leave at the gate. We have been told to act as alert, non-judgmental observers once we land in India. This necessarily includes admitting, internally or externally, the existence of individuals around us.