Only six hours before I walked along the carpeted shopping mall that is Singapore’s Changi Airport, past a koi pond and a signboard for a free movie theatre, I was at Kansai Airport in Osaka, Japan. There, elderly locals were raising their palms in thanks for the burgers they’d just devoured and young waiters were hurrying out to the entrance of their coffee shops to bow customers off to their departure gates. I couldn’t help but think of the time, years ago, when I’d spent a bright summer morning in the arrivals area at Los Angeles International Airport, watching an eager young man holding a bunch of yellow roses as he waited for a long-lost love to emerge through the door from customs. More recently, after I landed in Calgary, to head to the forested silence of Banff, I saw clutches of fresh-faced visitors from China posing for selfies in front of a statue of roaming bears.
Rituals like these are what turn the scattered notes of our lives into a symphony. They reassure us that we haven’t lost ourselves – or what we most value – as we speed across oceans. But what surprises me still, as I get off a plane after witnessing a sky burial in Tibet, or wave to friends as they fly toward the Camino that leads to Santiago de Compostela, is how rituals are ever more prominent in this new age of acceleration and displacement.