As autumn approached, my parents agreed that it would be good for my
mental health to skip my first holidays without Peter. “Let’s go on a
trip,” my father said. “Anywhere but Asia or Australia. I don’t want too
long a flight.”

“Let’s go to Peru,” I suggested. An avid bird-watcher, I had always
wanted to visit the Tambopata region of Peru, home to the largest known
clay licks on Earth. (A lick is a cliff where macaws, parrots, and
parrotlets congregate to ingest mud, a vital source of sodium.) I can
think of no more breathtakingly gaudy sight in the world. As our guide
marched us through the jungle, day after day, in search of an
ever-narrowing list of the area’s antbirds and antthrushes and
flycatchers and manakins, I came to see the trip as avian
psychopharmacology. It was a perfect, if privileged—and wet and
buggy—way of avoiding the tinselled and ornamented triggers of the
holidays.

On the flight home, as we began our descent into the Atlanta airport
early in the morning on New Year’s Day, I went to the bathroom to
freshen up. Washing my hands, I noticed that my ring felt loose. It slid
easily up and down my soapy finger. I must have sweated away some weight
in the jungle. Minutes later, back in my seat, I looked down and noticed
with alarm that it had vanished. I patted my lap and the seat pocket and
the armrests. Nowhere.

I began a panicked search as the flight reached its gate and the
passengers began to deplane. It had to be somewhere on the plane, but
where? A flight attendant, alerted to my plight, came to help.

“O.K., let’s divide up. I’m going to get you some rubber gloves and a
blanket. Go into the bathroom and dump the trash into the blanket and
sift through it piece by piece,” she instructed. “I’ll start searching
around the seat.”

I did as told, one crinkled tissue and contact-lens case and string of
dental floss at a time. No ring.

Back at my seat, she looked dismayed. “I can’t find it,” she lamented.

“We have to find it,” I said. “My spouse passed away in May.” Her eyes
bulged with sympathy.

Another flight attendant came to help. Up went the seat cushions. They
made me empty my pockets.

The first flight attendant, a woman named Maria, told me, “I don’t know
if it will help, but in my culture — I’m from Ecuador— if you lose
something like a ring, it’s a sign of something meant to be, a sign of a
new beginning . . . ”

“I’m not ready for a new beginning,” I mumbled.

A third flight attendant came to help. “Perhaps a fresh set of eyes will
help,” she suggested.

She dived under the seat, her legs akimbo, snorkeling. Lifting up some
panelling, she searched and probed. “Is it silver?” she asked a few
moments later.

“Yes! It’s platinum! That’s it!” I exclaimed.

Holding the ring in my fingers, I bowed to the flight attendants in thanks. If the moment
were a silent film, I would have looked as if I were proposing to each
of them in turn—to Maria, then to Erica, and finally to Autumn, who had
found the ring. I gave them each a hug and slid the ring back on my finger.

As I walked down the plane’s aisle, feeling almost as happy as a new
groom, the intercom announced, “The wedding ring has been found.”

At the jet bridge, a ground agent beamed. “Phew! Now you can go home and
your wife won’t be angry.” If only.