This week's mail brought my new passport. I tore into the envelope from the Department of State as if it were a mysterious and remarkable gift which, in fact, it is.
This little blue document spells freedom to move and learn and enjoy. It spells the world.
I read the passport, with the golden eagle on the front, as if I had never read one before. It is the same size as the last time, but the photo and personal information are laminated inside the cover, instead of on pages 2 and 3. I snapped the stiff corners a few times as if adjusting the brim of a favorite hat. "We'll get along well," I said.
My passport number, which I had trouble remembering at seven digits, is up to nine. Beyond the vital statistics--which no longer include height, weight or profession--are the most magical pages of all: the blank ones that will hold visas, stamps and the marks of immigration officials from around the globe, scribbled by bright young women on a Dublin morn, and by sleepy old men who barely bestir themselves for middle-of-the-night flights in India.
Filled With Promise
The clean, empty book is filled with promise, just as the other passports of my life are packed with pleasure.
Who could not smile at a smeared rubber stamp from London's Heathrow Airport that says "Leave to Enter for Six Months?" That reminds me of a revolving door, or an instruction to Alice in Wonderland.
A recent Los Angeles arrival was stamped in red by an immigration officer who threw in the latest Padres and Dodgers scores as a welcome home. France is there, bristling in blue; Barbados is violet. The visa from the Consulate General of Egypt includes a green-and-gold stamp of the monuments at Abu Simbel.
Passports used to be gaudier when more nations required visas and affixed elaborate stamps.
The most treasured message among my passports says simply, "See Page Five." That's where an official at the U.S. Embassy in London noted that, two days earlier in Yosemite National Park, I'd been married. Judith Ferrin Blakely became Judith Blakely Morgan.
Given my upbringing, and the times as I saw them, it seemed vital that I be carrying the same surname as the man with whom I traveled. Yet for the next six weeks, as hotel clerks and border guards scrutinized my passport, no one heeded the invitation to turn to Page Five and read all about it.
I have kept my passport up-to-date since college, so that I would always be ready to travel. This recent renewal is as close as I've ever cut it; it was within five days of expiration.
Besides the story yet to be written on its pages, the good news about this fresh document is that my photo was taken with a flash cube against a light wall. The squint-in-the-sun marks between my eyes disappeared. "You look like your younger sister," said a friend.
And there's even better news. I'm going to look this good for 10 years, according to the U.S. government. This passport is valid until 1996.