There is a knock at the door. I say “Come in” and my brother in law Mark walks into the room. He is a Brit and one of the best men I know. Cool and calm, as you might imagine from that Island, he is also very funny in a completely British way. When he first arrived in this country, I appointed myself his guide to all things American. I would ask him things like “Have you ever had an Oreo?” He would look puzzled and then inquire a little about it and say “no.” Several days later I would drop off a box of Oreos. This went on for years. I introduced him to Ring Dings, Yodels, Drakes Cakes and dozens of other treats children in America take for granted. It was not until much later that I discovered that he had tried most of the things I asked him about. He just thought it was funny stringing me along. That and the free goodies he was getting from me.
“How you doing, Bro?”
“All things considered; I am doing just fine. At least it is a pretty day.”
“Are you going to be able to bear up?”
“You know me.” And he did. After 17 years of being a part of our family he knew that I was the member of the clan who wore his emotions on his sleeve. Given the slightest provocation emotion would gush out of me like Old Faithful.
“I do. That is why I have devised a plan to get you through this day.”
“Any time I see you getting emotional. Weepy. I am going to do my imitation of Sean Connery playing James Bond in Goldfinger and say “Pussy.” His imitation was perfect, and I laughed.
“Good. Just what I hoped for. I have to go help M but I will be back in a little while to check in on you.”
The door clicked shut and I returned to my thoughts.
Elaine and I had “connected” for many reasons. One of them was the circumstance of our trip. We were both on a break from caring for our fathers. Pops was suffering from, among other things, kidney failure and her father had kidney cancer. The trip, for both of us, had been a chance to recoup. To build our emotional and physical reserves so that when we returned home we would have the fortitude required for our parent’s care and the end that was drawing near for both of them.
Elaine had told me quite a bit about her Dad. For many years, due to a bitter and contentious divorce, they had been estranged. He was also a retired 3-star General in the Brazilian Army which tended to make him rigid in his point of view. This had not always allowed for easy communication. However, in the last few years, especially since the death of Elaine’s beloved mother, their relationship had gained depth. Similar to me, Elaine’s first act on arriving home was to rush to see her father.
I wanted to meet the general. Not only because he sounded like a fascinating man but because I wanted him to know how much I loved his daughter. I wanted him to know she would be well taken care of and he need not worry about her. For weeks leading up to my departure for Rio I had imagined what meeting her father would be like. I mentally rehearsed what I would say to him and what questions I would ask him. Sadly, I never got that chance. Elaine’s Dad passed away 10 days previous to my departure.
I did not find out about his demise until late on the day of his death and after increasing concern over several unanswered phone calls to Elaine. When I finally spoke with her, she was bereft and without consolation. She explained that her Dad had died in the morning and as per the custom in Rio, due to the tropical climate he was buried in the afternoon. I tried to say the right things to her. To let her know that I cared but her sadness and the distance made consoling her by phone all but impossible.
After we hung up the phone, I felt as if I had not done enough to console the woman I loved. It also pained me that I had not had the opportunity to talk to the General before his death. I had wanted to tell him in person, man to man, that Elaine would be cherished and safe with me. To help me cope with my feelings of inadequacy in consoling Elaine and my inability to say what I wanted to her father I wrote him a letter that I then shared with her.
Late this afternoon, your daughter wrote to me to tell me of your passing. My hope sir is that your body which has been so tormented of late has freed your soul and that it has found a better place. A place where the vigors of your youth are close at hand…a place where you are at ease and in no pain…a place where you can soak in all the love the universe has to offer.
I am only sorry sir that we did not have a chance to meet. I know we would have much to say to each other.
I think that I would have started our conversation sharing with you the love and admiration that I have for your daughter Elaine. I would have told you that she is a bright star in a dark universe and that her intelligence, charm and beauty make her worthy of her name. That the love I have for her is real and that I will do whatever I can to take special care of her heart, to make sure she never feels alone, and that her happiness is always put before my own.
I would also have wanted to share with you something that I know you already knew; how much your daughter loves you. From the moment I met her she shared with me her joys about the times you spent together. She told me stories of your trip to the World Cup, of sharing a cabin and adventures and of your trip to America with its circuitous path. But it wasn’t the stories that mattered, it was the glow in her eyes as she told the stories that told me all I needed to know of the very special love shared between father and daughter.
I would have complimented you sir on the daughter you raised. I know that one of your regrets in life was that you did not get to spend as much time with your daughter as you would have liked but I think that you more than made up for that with the gifts that you have given her. She is a good soul and possesses a kind heart and that was not created in a vacuum. Those are values you helped give to her. She has the love of the truth and is honest. Those are gifts you shared with her. She is thoughtful and intelligent and those are things you imparted on her. She is beautiful both inside and out and I know those are qualities you fostered in her.
Finally, I would have thanked you sir. Your daughter has been a blessing to me. She has helped me rediscover my heart and my voice. Her love supports me and sustains me. Finding her has been like finding a part of me that I never knew that I had lost. So thank you sir for giving me the greatest gift of all…love.
Sir, I hope your soul has found its peace and its reward. You are and will be in my thoughts and my prayers.
You are of blessed memory,
I salute you.
In my over three million air miles, I have developed several immutable laws of airports. The first law states that the distance from your gate to passport and border protection is inversely proportional to your desire to reach your destination. The second law is actually a corollary to the first law. It states that lines at customs and border control are inversely proportional to your desire to move through the lines quickly.
Both laws were in effect when I landed at Jobim International airport in late April of 2012. The plane’s gate was the furthest possible from passport control. (A later measurement would show it to be almost 1km) I had been bumped to business class and as such was one of the first off the airplane and I set out as fast as I could with a rollaboard and brief case. My goal was to try to be the first in line at passport control. It was a fast-enough pace for me to pass a number of fellow passengers and I do not think anyone passed me. My speed walking did not provide any help when I reached the checkpoint. It seemed like every international flight due in Rio that day had landed and disgorged their passengers at exactly the same time. The line was massive.
Waiting made me anxious. It had been a little bit longer than one month since I had last seen Elaine. Every one of those days I had missed her little bit more. Every one of those days I worried whether or not when I saw her again the flame of love which had burned so bright on board the Costa Pacifica would be as blinding now that we were back in the real world. I wanted nothing more than to see her and feel her in my arms. I knew that the minute I saw her I would know whether I would be broken hearted or over the moon. The longer I stood in line the greater the desire to see her and the greater my anxiety grew. I fidgeted. Counted people being processed by minute. I tapped my foot when agents held passengers in line too long.
The wait was interminable when I finally stood at the head of the line. Why had all the passport control officer decided to take forever processing the people in front of them. When I was finally called to an agent it felt like he was moving in slow motion scanning my passport and declarations. He asked whether I was here for business and pleasures. When I replied pleasure with a smile it seemed to take him minutes to find a suitable page within passport worthy of his entry stamp.
Cleared to enter the country, I dashed past the carousels of luggage and promptly got lost in duty free looking for the exit. Not really my fault. Dutyfree is a big deal in Brazil as taxes on consumer goods are so high and as a consequence the area is huge. And like end of aisle displays at supermarkets they want you to see something along the way that you cannot do without so exit signs are hidden to increase that possibility. Finally out of the shopping maze I had to pass through customs. Like most country they have a simple green line red line system. If you have something to declare you entered the red line, which no one in Brazil does voluntarily. As a result, there are two beefy, armed, federal police officers who give everyone passing through the green line the stink eye, including me. I am fairly sure the only reason they let me through was because I was carrying so little, I could hardly do much harm to Brazil. Or perhaps it was the winning smile I forced on them.
Just beyond customs there was one last obstacle to clear. The taxi kiosks where aggressive hawkers offered to drive you any where in the world for a price far lower than their competition. They were not shy about offering their services, all but grabbing me by the arm and pulling me to their booths. I ignored them and after a couple of jukes and a stutter step or two I was walking through sliding glass doors and into the main terminal.
The entrance resembled that of a red carpet at the premiere of a movie with a central aisle roped off from they paparazzi. Instead of holding microphones and cameras, many in the crowd held up placards with people’s names written on them. As opposed to yelling out the celebrities names and “over here” people yelled out “What flight are you on?”, “First time in Rio?”, “Need a Taxi.” And like many a paparazzo upon seeing a B or C list celebrity I was simply ignored while their eyes strained to look around me for someone more important.
I was blind to all of it. To me the crowd was a single blur and the shouting no more than a dull buzz. I only had eyes for one person, and I scanned the ropes looking for her and nearly panicked when I did not see her. Had I really come all this way for nothing. Had I been that big a fool. Then, as if scripted in a movie, I saw her push through the crowd and come to the rope.
It was if a spotlight shined on her and similar to a tight shot in a movie everything around her faded away. Her smile was incandescent and blinding and somehow, she looked even more beautiful than she had aboard the Costa Pacifica. In that moment I knew without any doubt that if I had anything to do with it this woman would always be a part of my life. What I didn’t realize at the time, that this moment would be the one I recalled when I ever needed to focus on a happy place to chase away any blues I might be experiencing.