The Stand-by Life
For most of my life, I’ve enjoyed a spectacular privilege. And yes - before you get to it – as a white, Finnish woman I enjoy many great privileges. But this one is a rarity even amongst my people.
You see, due to my own, and my family members’ long careers in tourism, for nearly all of my life I have enjoyed amazing flight benefits. In other words, I have hardly ever paid a normal price for flight tickets. While this has made possible many amazing things in my life – from exotic travel, spontaneous holidays and even local weekend getaways I never would have afforded otherwise, to regularly being able to visit friends and family at home and even bring my cat – like everything in life, it has a down side. That is something called “stand-by”.
When travelling “stand-by”, you’re usually invited to literally stand by at the gate, wait until all passengers have boarded, and cross your fingers and toes that they call your name to fill the last empty seat on the plane. If you’re as seasoned at this form of travel as I was, you’ll probably have researched your options beforehand and scribbled all the different airlines, flight codes, boarding times and alternate routes down Beautiful Mind -style, worn your best sneakers and packed not only hand luggage-light, but literally luggage-in-hand-at-all-times -light. You’ve done your stretches, charged up three phones and memorized both your credit card and passport numbers for quicker online bookings and check-ins. All of this has a faint resemblance to Amazing Race – even the fact that every now and then you’ll form a strange frenemyship with another standbyer, and move from gate to gate side by side, strategizing together while also competing for spots, until one of you eventually gets onboard, and disappears onto the plane, never to be seen again.
Sometimes you get lucky on the first try and get a seat in a premium class right away. Other times, you spend 30 hours running through three different airports, rushing from gate to gate, miles under your luggage wheels, sweating and somehow freezing at the same time, exhausted and irritated by the changing schedules and incoherent announcements. It hasn’t been once or twice that I’ve resorted to making a nest at a freezing cold airport for the night – one that I only barely knew the name or location of. Traveling “stand by” has given me the best of times and the worst of times. But in the end, the trip has always been worth it.
Looking back at my past 8 years making music in New York, they look a lot like those moments at the airport gates. It’s been one big never ending hustle. Incredible amount of research, scrappiness and self-learning. Rushing from one open door to another, from disappointments to victories and back, determined to stay moving no matter what, always one step ahead. There’s been sweat and tears and baggage. People have come and gone. Opportunities have arrived and disappeared. And there’s been so much waiting. And waiting. And waiting. For what, I don’t quite know anymore. The lines have blurred on the way, like those covering the airport floors do when you’re exhausted enough.
Lately, the universe has been handing me notes. I imagine these as little cosmic post-its, but if you don’t believe in any of that, think of them as sudden internal epiphanies.
A couple weeks ago a good friend of mine was driving down a highway to meet me for a live music show (because what else), when out of nowhere a car hit her, pushing her door in and sending her to a hospital. My friend will be okey, thank God, but standing by her hospital bed that night, the universe reminded me of something I learned a long time ago in equally dramatic circumstances: Life is fragile.
Around the same time, I finished watching an incredible TV-show about life and death and love and all things in between, and after the final episode, had one of my existential melancholic fits and cried for hours, sobbing into my cat’s soft fur, begging her to please never die, and realizing she had just turned 6. My baby, my tiny kitten, is past a third of her life. As am I. The universe whispered its familiar slogan: Life is short.
The hardest of the notes, however, came as I was on my way home from work after a grueling 14 –hour-day. Pavement swimming under my throbbing feet, every limb aching, I wobbled home on the dark streets of New York, cursing my job, cursing my life, cursing the fact that I didn’t yet have the everyday I knew I was meant for – one with a remote career full of inspired creative endeavours, freedom, independence, purpose. I could see it so clearly in my head. The company I was about to start. The good kind of struggle and the meaningful hustle and the freedom. The freedom. The extra long cup of tea in the morning. The drafting my own week. The post-it-manifestations. The working from anywhere in the world. The never again selling my lifetime to others. The paying myself first, building something of my own.
And in the middle of the street it hit me, like a cold burst of that spontaneous New York wind. Life is now. No matter how you like it. No matter how heavy your step is. No matter how you envision something else, and dream out loud, and build, and hustle, and aspire. It’s here. It’s rolling right now. Even between the days when you feel inspired to live it. Even between the planes. It’s here, and it’s now, and if you keep waiting for the “when”, you might miss it. Imagine if one of these cars hit you right now and you never got your perfect gritty free good-kind-of-hard entrepreneur creative multi-hyphenate life. Imagine if you never found real love, either. Or got the Grammy. Or lived to see your cat get old. We’re rolling, all the time, not when you’re ready to call “action”. Don’t wait to start your life until you’re ready to start your life. It doesn’t work that way.
Here’s the thing. Sometimes in life you feel stuck. You’re standing at the gates, watching the people walk by you to the plane, one by one, like in slow motion. Sometimes you’ve been running for hours, and waiting, and running, and waiting, and when the gate closes, and the last plane home takes off without you, your heart sinks. After all the steps you’ve taken, all the miles behind you, you’re still not even on your way. But that’s the catch. You are. Because even while you’re waiting, even on the cold airport floor, even when you’re drafting your game plan, before you’ve even packed your bags, you are moving forward. Or, your life is. It’s up to you to notice.
I wonder what would happen if we could drop the “when”. If we could work towards something, and dream, and build, but actually recognize that the building IS the life. Like the journey is the destination. Or, like my mentor put it, “learn to love the hustle”. If we could see waiting as something other than time wasted. An opportunity, perhaps, to get really extra clear on what we’re actually waiting for, and why. Life isn’t always amazing. In fact, a lot of the time it’s really, really hard. But even then, it is. Life is. Right now.
Safe travels. Pack light.