London, England, spring 2005: My lucky friend is marrying a Swede in London, and I'm aboard the airport "Super Shuttle" van at 4:00 am, en route to fly out for the wedding. Preparing for this trip has been overwhelmingly stressful: passport, flights, accommodations, dogsitter, wedding outift, etc. At last, my enormous suitcase is packed, and though I'm painfully under-caffienated and sleepy, I'm headed to Dulles International Airport.
The driver asks us dozen passengers: "What airline you taking from Reagan National?" Mayhem erupts: half of us have flights out of Dulles in Virginia, half out of Reagan in D.C. The driver shouts to his dispatcher on his radio, who promises to send another van--as soon as they can rouse a driver, presumably fast asleep somewhere in a bed. Meanwhile, we are hurtling through suburban darkness in the wrong direction.
In a foggy panic, I strategize with a fellow Dulles passenger: we'll get out and take a taxi. One hour and one hundred dollars later, we finally arrive curbside at the right airport. When the driver opens the trunk, my suitcase is gone. Vanished. I must have left it in the van, or lost it in the befuddled transition. What to do? The wedding is tomorrow evening. A few angry calls to Not-So-Super Shuttle avail nothing.
I board the plane with a wallet, passport, and one change of clothes for a three-night stay.
The next morning, I eat breakfast with the owners, a quiet, middle-aged married couple. After discussing the nearest clothing stores, we chat over coffee and pastries. I ask them about the house. It's their empty nest, they tell me. They lost their only daughter to cancer about ten years ago.
"She would have been--oh, about your age now," the father says.
"I understand," I say. "I lost my dad when I was 18."
The rest of that day is filled with desperate clothes-shopping efforts in the morning, wedding festivities at night. The following day, free to sight see, I plan to visit Hampstead Heath and the Keats House. My hosts offer to drive me there.
I feel like a kid out with my parents for a Sunday drive: that safe feeling of being in the backseat; sun flickering though the window, turning my closed eyelids red; the steering wheel snug in the father's hands. We stop for lunch at a modest restaurant, and then go walking on the Heath. I'd long dreamed of following in the footsteps of the Romantics: to feel the steady walking rhythm of Wordworth's lines, to see the light and textures that glow within Keats's lyrics, to hear his nightingale and my heart beat in the landscape of my heroes.
The next morning is my last: I'm at breakfast again, talking to the father. For the first time, he tells me his daughter's name, Sybil. A rising star in law school. Working pro bono for clients in need. In her last days, she bought an apartment for her parents. She watches over me, he says, and presses his palms into his damp eyes.
For a moment--how can I say this?--for one or two long seconds, here at a table cluttered with coffee cups and jam jars and baskets of bread, as I sense how much he misses his daughter--just as I miss my father--I'm overcome with absolute conviction that our two lost beloveds are in the room. I suddenly know, as well as I know 1+1=2, that a supernatural-something exists beyond the comprehension of my five senses. The feeling comes, and then goes, like a slight breeze, a sliver of moon disappearing behind clouds.
Not ghosts, not angels--merely a presence, a something. When I return to the U.S., I can't describe the moment to my friends without breaking down in tears. Maybe sometimes you have to go far away and lose everything to get closer to home.