Opinion

OPINION | TED TALLEY: A different kind of journey; it was good to have a navigator who worked out the destination and schedule

Shared love, shared losses and an uncharted path to reunion

I returned to Northwest Arkansas late last Sunday from a trip to Raleigh, the beautiful North Carolina state capital of rolling, wooded hills, where my agenda was a family visit. Arriving there, I remained a little bewildered as to exactly how I'd come to be in the Tar Heel State.

No, I've not become disoriented in my seventh-decade dotage.

Putting aside the metaphorical, I know exactly how I departed and returned after such enjoyable time spent with my 8-year-old grandson and his father, the former husband of my daughter Kathryn, who passed away two years ago this month.

Precisely, I made my way via the miracle of human flight, riding in chairs strapped to metal contraptions seven miles above the earth. Rerouting from my usual loyalty to our hometown airport, Northwest Arkansas National, I configured my Kansas City combo deal: a very low outbound fare on United Airlines using a promotional credit and a non-stop freebie returning on Southwest Airlines accessing points I rarely get to use. All costs considered, driving up Interstate 49 to Kansas City was the low-price alternative.

Pausing for an aside on the matter of Southwest: I don't get why certain folks in Northwest Arkansas get their panties so wadded about XNA not being a Southwest destination. Surely, it was convenient to return nonstop to Kansas City, but the Southwest product ain't what it used to be. The 737 series 700 used for my flight has seen better days: No power outlets, worn carpet, a lavatory light fixture held in place by red security tape and a cabin smelling like dumpsters behind a shopping mall food court. A Greyhound express bus I once took from Joplin to Tulsa was better kempt.

This was my first visit to Kansas City International since 2018. It has a new facility, a total departure from the previous layout of three curved, concrete terminals that seemed like concession concourses in the underbelly of an obsolete football stadium. Though the exterior is generic, the new dual concourse single terminal has some interesting features and décor inside. Mobile art hangs from ceilings. One installation captures both the spirit of flight and the city's famed jazz scene: multiple shiny gold saxophones are configured in jet-like sculptures flying above the food court. Instrument bells stand in for turbine intakes. You can imagine the roar of jets or the wail of woodwinds at Broadway and Vine. A large fountain of lights touts the "City of Fountains" slogan. Airy jetways are all glass.

In the concourse center lays the solution to the contentious bathroom assignment political debate. A large, all-gender washroom is lined with private stalls. Green/red status lights signal availability above tall doors. In the spirit of inclusiveness, there are traditional gender-segregated facilities elsewhere welcomed by men exercising their God-given right to stand upright at a urinal, exposed in concert amongst the like-minded.

Back to my original thought: How did I find myself visiting the home of an estranged son-in-law and fellow widower? The figurative and literal routes were troubled. Yet everything considered -- the young couple's divorce and such negative events and emotions in that process when a young child is involved -- and then the death of the child's mother, my youngest daughter, we all landed safely following the turbulence. As my mother would say during times of strife, "It'll all work out."

Thinking of bell curve averages and actuarial tables, I never expected to be a widower myself with a wife passing in her early 50s, let alone sharing the spouse-left-behind experience with not one but two 30-something sons-in-law following the death of two daughters. Some men relate to daughters' spouses through football, fishing or backyard grilling. I relate to these two men, one in Raleigh and the other in Bentonville, because we've all three lost wives and been left single dads. I hope my role as a scout marking this specific life trail ahead of them has helped.

Surely my life would have been different had I fallen into the template of my parents: hard work in the hometown business, kids reared, and retirement followed by passing away in old age within a few years of one's spouse. That wasn't my route. I was a boomer with a modicum of wanderlust. Except for a corporate career track, I went off flying by the seat of the pants compared to my dear, supportive parents. And I never realized until my later years, all along God wasn't my co-pilot. He was the navigator.

And that's how I landed in this lovely neighborhood in North Carolina filled with pines, oaks, songbirds and my grandson's Chihuahua yapping in the backyard. It all worked out.

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