Monday, September 20, 2010

Journey Across a Lifetime

by Zinta Aistars

I wake lazy this morning. Monday, and I don't have to go to work. Don't have to drive from home to the office, that daily 110-mile trek. Instead, I am preparing to make a journey of about 9,000 miles. Tomorrow, September 21, my journey begins to Latvia, a return trip for the first time in some 17 years.

Only I realize that my journey began a long time ago. It began in the spring, when I first made the commitment to cross the ocean to the land of my mothers and fathers, past generations as far as any geneology has taken me. It began when I decided it was time, it was time overdue, and I went to the city hall office to renew my dusty passport. It began when I purchased the airline ticket, from the very same woman in Chicago who had sold me a ticket for my first trip to Latvia, at age 15. Indeed, I gaze at an old photograph in my album... a 15-year-old me sitting at a table next to a 15-year-old boy playing his guitar for me, his eyes dropped shyly to his knees. We met then for the first time. He would grow up to become a classically trained musician, and I would grow up to be a writer, each on our side of the ocean, yet sharing a language and ancestry. That "boy" is today my music editor at The Smoking Poet. That boy grew into a man who would become my lifelong friend.

An evil empire would fall between then and now. An Iron Curtain would move aside. A lifetime would pass. Several lifetimes, it seems, and today, we are both gray and with fine lines at the corners of our eyes.

"Gaidisu..." he writes to me this morning. "I'll be waiting for you..."

And the notes back and forth across the ocean have moved with increasing speed and frequency. Many friends and family members I haven't seen in such a very long time have resurfaced in my life, in my every day. A goddaughter who was an infant when I was a teen, a baby I held in my unaccustomed hands.... today she is a young wife and mother, waiting to introduce me to her two children. There are those that I met so long ago, and today they are gone. Their journeys are over. My grandmother's brother, Arnolds, who was deported to Siberia, thought lost forever, thought dead, but who managed to return to his home in Ventspils after a journey of years, gaunt, near death, yet still knowing how to laugh. I remember his laughter on subsequent visits to Ventspils. I remember his kind smile. I will never see him again, not in this lifetime.

I remember my grandfather's sister, Anna, proud and tall woman, whose life story, too, was harsh and filled with loss. I remember my grandmother's sister, Milda, short and plump, hair swinging across her face as she giggled deliciously. I couldn't help but smile when I was around her. Gone, all gone now. Interesting to me today, looking back, that those who would have most reason to be hardened and embittered, for all the tragedies in their lives, showed the brightest smiles and back then greeted me with the warmest embraces, making me feel at home. They helped me understand the meaning of family.

So much has passed during all these years. We have all changed. So many of us are now parents, grandparents, even great-grandparents. Too many of us are gone.

This journey began so long ago. So very long ago.

And as I pack my bags today, tucking my renewed passport and airline tickets into a pocket, I realize I may never make this trip again. I have had my own harsh choices to make in life. I, too, have had to walk away from sweeter dreams and a brighter happiness. I remember Arnolds, Anna, Milda, and take courage. But I've done my best, made what I've known in my heart were the right decisions, and so I prepare now to see all those much loved faces one more time, realizing that after those joyous hellos will come teary farewells. I have been saving for a dream to move north to Michigan's Upper Peninsula for a long time... and these trips, expensive as they are, can eat away at this other dream I have had since I was a girl. Choices. I have more choices to make.

So my heart has opened again, warm and full to bursting, and then clenched again, knowing that the flip side will be wet with tears. I already know how this story ends. Yet, I am reminded, "never say never." Who knows what may yet come? Certainly as I look back on my life of more than half a century now, I can see how many twists and turns there have been in this plot, how many surprises, how many impossible dreams become stunningly possible. One never knows.

The heart must always remain open to possibilities. A journey is an adventure when we let the road lead us instead of our always trying to determine which road we must take. I have my goal to pursue, but the forks in the road, I know, will yet be many.

For now, I read those warm notes that have traveled so many thousands of miles ... gaidisu ... and my heart beats steady and strong, full of anticipation. So many beloved faces. So many threads left untied long ago, to be picked up again. That gray we now have threaded through and through our hair, it has been honorably earned, and I am proud of it. If my heart had ever clenched tight again, it is today soft, and open, and pulsing with the pleasure of knowing that I am welcome, that someone somewhere waits for me, with open arms.

The clock ticks. The time nears. The jet engines begin to whir and gather speed.

It is time. At long last, it is time to go home again.


  1. Have a most wonderful trip, Zinta.


  2. The 15 year old girl is the one I remember from Comstock High! I hope you have a wonderful trip...Mary (Chipman)Hanson