Saturday, February 26, 2011


February 15, 2011. I’ve written that date so many times it should have felt more real. It was the date my passport, my first “adult” one after renewing my original youth passport to go to Japan with the Luther College Concert Band after college graduation, would expire. (Interestingly, this meant the date on my passport was synchronized to the year of my ten-year college reunion.)

The date ticked on, ever closer, like a small time bomb. Yet every time I wrote it on an official document, it loomed off in some great distance of time and space and the general unreality of times that would never come.

But in January it finally hit me. This passport is about to expire. My ten years were up.

Last week I received my renewed passport in the mail. It arrived in a thin USPS priority mail envelope, completely unassuming except for the tiny “US Passport Center” return address stamped in the corner. It was shiny and stiff. The picture looks remarkably like the me in the old one. Apparently I am still that person.

But in the excitement of receiving a new license to wander the world, there was a moment of panic and grief. My old passport was not in the envelop. Gone, it seemed, were 10 years of my life as marked by visa stamps to Japan, China, Brazil, Paraguay, Madagascar, Thailand, Vietnam and Laos. Stamp dates that told the tale of multiple entries and years spent negotiating customs lines and proving that I was a citizen of the U.S. of A. Suddenly, it seemed as if those years and miles had not happened at all. It was hard to celebrate the arrival of a new passport when the old one suddenly seemed to mean so very little.

Much to my relief, a second envelop, even less assuming than the first, arrived several days later. There, tucked safely inside, was my old passport, officially hole punched, but in every way the well-worn, slightly blurred from being soaked in the Iguazu Waterfall, bloated with extra pages companion it had been for the last ten years.

My new passport bears an even more distant date of February 12, 2021, and has even fewer immediate plans for use than my old passport did when I received it. This passport also comes with a warning that it contains sensitive electronics and I am not to bend, perforate or expose to extreme temperatures. Which makes me wonder if, ten years on, my own sense of adventure is going to become as stiff and sensitive as my new passport. Or if we will both sill wind up bloated with additional pages of visa stamps before our next date of reckoning.