The sun beat down upon my shoulders and the humid air wrapped itself around me like a hot, wet blanket. In true southern hospitality, the heat of July in Georgia was giving me an overwhelming embrace as I stepped out of the airport. The heat was a shock to my body, which had grown accustomed to the onset of winter in the southern hemisphere. My head spun for a moment, a mix of the temperature change, humidity, and a lack of sleep in the past 48 hours. As I finished my last sip of coffee, I looked to my left to see a beaming smile from an outside attendant. “Which way to Marta?” I asked groggily.
“Well now darlin’ you just head right down this sidewalk here to that last shuttle and you’ll be on your way. You keep smilin’ now you hear?” he responded with a thick, cheerful southern drawl.
Only 48 hours and 5,122 miles earlier I had been home in southern Chile. The house was still dark when I awoke, and would remain so until around 8:45 when the lazy winter sun finally pulled itself above our mountains. After an hour of predawn yoga in front of a crackling fire and our watchful Australian Shepherd, Check, the business of the day set in and I collected every last little detail I would need to take care of before leaving the country for this brief trip.
Darkness settled back into town before I even departed, and as I queued up to get on the bus I silently crossed my fingers that the exhaustion of the busy day would help me quickly fall asleep on the bus. At 8:30pm my bus was loaded and ready to hit the road north for Santiago. I smiled as I waved to Alejandro out the window, already missing him but excited to be making this trip. I pulled off my shoes, stretched out to the extent possible in my semi-cama and pulled out my sleep mask for good measure. The minutes melted into miles as the night bus cruised the Ruta 5 north.
Ten hours later I heard the window curtain above my head being pulled aside. I took off my sleep mask and groggily stared out the window. Despite my efforts to ensure a restful sleep, numbness in my legs and arms due to nerve damage in my lower back had me tossing and turning most of the night. I kind of hate to say this, but the days when I used to be able to curl into a ball on a bus or plane and sleep soundly for hours may only be a memory of my past now- as sign of age, I suppose.
The lush green mountains and glistening lakes I had left behind in the night had been replaced by cement, plywood and tin-roofed suburbs as far as the eye could see. Even in the dawn darkness I could see the pollution hovering like a grayish brown cloak over the city. I stretched, pulled on my boots and jacket and exchanged my sleep mask for my pollution mask. Eleven hours and 480 miles done, it was now time to hit the streets of Santiago before my evening flight.
The minutes of the day passed quickly, a mix of moments in transit, random conversations with cab drivers and subway riders, lunch with a great friend and a final repack before the long flight. Before I knew it I was in another cab bound for the airport, swapping stories with the driver about life in Chile, smiling at his surprise that I was living in Pucon, thankful for his patience with my Spanish as he continuously encouraged more conversation and I explained how and why we had moved here. We laughed together as he smiled and shook his head, saying, “Greta, la gringa loca!!”
Finally I was on the plane settling into my economy seat. I again pulled off my boots and jacket, exchanged my pollution mask for my sleep mask, and hoped for better luck sleeping on this second redeye. Nearly ten hours, about 20 minutes of sleep and some 4,635 miles later, we touched down in Atlanta, GA in the good old USA. Sunshine poured into the window even though it was only 5:30am, as stark contrast to my dark morning start only the day before.
From the airport shuttle I made my way to the Marta station in the domestic terminal, grabbed a Breeze pass (slightly amazed at how efficient I could be without having to first translate everything in my brain) and found a seat on the train. I looked out the window at the lush green landscape as we pulled further from the city out into the suburbs. Finally, after 38 hours in transit via bus, Santiago metro, taxi, airplane, shuttle and Atlanta metro, I stepped out of the train station and into the arms of my wonderful friend Kate, who I had not seen in three years.
The collective minutes, hours, miles and temporary moments of discomfort that it took me to get to this very place, at this very moment, all just melted away. All I could do was smile and ask her a hundred questions as we excitedly caught up on life and details of her wedding taking place in two days. The following four days were a flurry of activities, laughter and love- hundreds of little moments that I will forever look back on and smile with gratitude that I was there to witness, and participate.
Life constantly presents us with opportunities to pursue moments like this, and it is so easy to let them pass us by if the road we have to take to get there seems a little too rough. A little over a year ago, when Kate told me where and when her wedding would take place, I felt a pang of fear that I wouldn’t be able to be there. I had just quit my job, and was in the midst of the final strokes of planning our move to South America. So much ahead of us was unknown, and although I didn’t want to entertain the idea of not going, all I knew for sure was that I would be living at the other end of the world by then.
Moments like these, although they are easy to let pass, are so fulfilling when embraced instead. They fill up every cell of our beings with joy. We are all connected, in one way or another, and when we find the people that we are meant to love, and who love us just as deeply, the world is not so big anymore. The buses and plane rides are not so long. But those moments, those brief beautiful moments we stretch ourselves so far in order to reach, those last a lifetime, even if only in our hearts.