I am waiting in the National Airport in Washington DC. I was informed by my host that no local refers to the airport by its official name: The Ronald Regan National Airport. He also told me that there is a Republican organization whose focus is to have something named after Ronald Reagan in every county of the United States and every capital city of every nation. Canonization by geography.
I am having lunch alone at Legal Seafood in the National Airport. Beside me is a man also eating lunch alone. He is re-considering a trip to Milwaukee because he's getting a cold. It's part of a book tour and he's telling me about his book, Living Your Life Backward and how it sells well in independent bookstores and only those big-box bookstores that still maintain some local independence. Our small talk develops into a conversation about mortality and once you start talking about death its hard to talk about anything else but that.
I'm in Olson's bookstore in the National Airport. I'm considering picking up Black Swan Green because I loved the author's previous work, Cloud Atlas and because there is a handwritten staff picks card that recommends it. But instead, I pick up The Time Traveler's Wife and turn it over and learn that the time traveler in question is a librarian. I'm a librarian. I am in the process of traveling home from a library conference. That clinches it. I take the book to the counter and I know I have made a good choice because the face of the man at the counter lights up when I hands him the book. He says that its an appropriate time to read this book after the death of Kurt Vonnegut. And I say, "Yes - I hadn't thought of that - all that time travel in Slaughterhouse Five. Have you been selling more Vonnegut after his death?". He nods his head. I say, "Your buyers should have an 'author death-watch'. 'Vonnegut has a bad cough! Reprints! Stat!'
I am sitting in the National Airport in a seat facing the runways and I am deep into my book and have to remind myself to emerge periodically in order to not miss my boarding call. I feel displaced by geography and feel vulnerable by my strange surroundings. I am homesick for the first time in my adult life. While I'm reading, I hear the voice on the intercom but can't make out any of the words. Out of curiosity I get out of my seat to see if my plane has been delayed and find out that it currently boarding. Even though I have been in the airport for hours I'm the last one to board the bus to the airplane.
I am sitting in my plane and I think my seat beside is going to be empty but a woman changes seats and sits next to me. She asks me where I am going and I say, home. I ask her where she is going and she says a World Summit on Organ Donation at Wayne State University. She is a physician in New York City and she tells me that she will be speaking about the practice of organ harvesting of prisoners of conscience by the Chinese government. She tells me that there is a Canadian researcher who had concluded that the only way that the Chinese companies that are able to provide Western clients with human organs with turnaround times in as little is a week are able to do so because that they are executing prisoners on demand. Most of our hour and a half flight is spent talking about this grim topic although we are interrupted by a man behind us who out frustration with a toddler who began to cry on the plane's descent yells 'Take that kid to the bathroom' and when I look behind, he is slapping the back of his hand against the other - smack smack smack - and I am paralyzed by his anger and his callousness. Then again, I have been reeling from the continual reminders that we live in an uncaring universe for some time now. I want to be home desperately. My toddler is having trouble sleeping while I'm gone and he cries and cries.
I am writing this from the safety of home. But I know that the safety of home is just an illusion. One day I will die and Ronald Reagan's name will live on.