Friday, December 9, 2011

The Airport

“Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion's starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don't see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often it's not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it's always there - fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends." -- Love Actually (movie) 

I've been hanging around airports the last couple of days.  I've been traveling alone, in my own little world, and so I got to do a lot of observing...listening to conversations, watching the arrivals, seeing the departures and creating stories in my head.  

One of my favorite movies is called The Terminal with Tom Hanks and Catherine Zeta-Jones.  In that movie, Tom Hanks is stuck indefinitely at an airport and must figure out how to survive (and thrive) in a world where everyone is going someplace and has no time to help.  Tom Hanks makes friends with busy airport employees and yet stays true to himself throughout the movie. 

What I love about that movie is what I love about airports: the connections.  Most of the time, we are busy on our path.  We almost always have blinders on...busy, so busy, insidiously intent on getting to our destination and on maintaining our forward momentum.  It is literally the opposite of what we know brings about happiness...enjoying the journey...and yet still we march forward.  

At the airport, for just a moment, instead of being on our daily straight line, we have circles...circles of connections all around us.  Wherever you look, you have families saying good-bye through tears and bear hugs.  You can spot a romantic couple stealing a kiss or whispering love notes.  There are kids eagerly awaiting the arrival of a parent with a home-made poster or a shy smile.  There are reconnections of several generations and excited whoops and hollers.  Yesterday, as I made my way home there was a very non-descript older lady being pushed in a wheelchair by some airport employee who was also pushing a very obese young twenty-something guy in a separate wheelchair.  Of course, I noticed the guy and barely registered the old lady in pink. However, when I heard "Sis!!!" yelled out from an equally old lady in blue and the ensuing home-coming of love and friendship and family that surrounded those two in a frenetic airport, I took note.  Old lady in pink is important to the old lady in blue.  She's somebody's someone special and it was plain as day.  It made me smile, not just for the two of them and their obvious joy, but also in anticipation of the day I yell "Sis!!!" to my old lady sister in a pretty pink sweater...forcing some random airport employee to get caught up in our homecoming: two old ladies and loads of love.  I can just picture it. :)

Airports are portals of adventure but are also just as importantly a passageway home.  Waiting for Jack at the airport a few days before Thanksgiving I had tears in my eyes.  I had nowhere I'd rather be.  I wanted to just be as close as I could get to the spot where he stepped off the plane and headed back to us.  I had to be satisfied with lurking near the new monorail that our airport has created to carry people back and forth to the new terminal.  Waiting with Caroline, Patrick, Mary Kate and John we had our circle, ready to celebrate a home-coming, waiting to feel complete as a family again. And there he stepped, cool as a newly minted college guy can be when his whole family shows up at the airport to bring him home. We swarmed him, hugged him, tried to play it cool as we laughed and joked and hugged some more.  All around us, the same miracle was repeating itself: regular people pausing for all the world to see and greeting, loving and welcoming home (or sending off) their loved one.  It's OK to reveal your emotions an airport real life happens and the masks we so carefully contrive to take us through our days slip away. 

Airports are busy.  Airports are a weird paradox between all of the boundaries and borders we put up to guard ourselves from our enemies and all of the crazy interconnectedness of the world.  We are ALL somebody's someone special.  We ALL matter.  Someone somewhere is waiting for us, wishing us home or sending us off with good luck and lots of love. The pilots have families that care; the airline attendants do too; the people who work the counter and (God bless them) deal with missed flights, wrong bookings, lost luggage, tired travelers with crabby kids and oversized baggage also have people waiting for them at home ready to love them up.  Those air traffic control heroes who watch mind-numbing radar  and coordinate the flow of flights in a safe calm manner most definitely have people back home cheering them on.  And at the airport we give them our life and our safety and take a leap of faith.  We grant them access to our lives all the while knowing that it is a fragile, breakable, no-guarantee situation. We each hold within us the knowledge that we're taking a risk and it is this reason that allows us the emotional moments of good-bye and welcome home.   

I guess at the airport, with its mandatory security clearance, x-rays, pat downs and baggage checks, we are forced to stop and take note that our world might not be as safe or as free as we lull ourselves into believing. It makes us recognize the incredible gift of traveling without limits or restrictions and the amazing job that the airports and airlines do day in and day out without very much applause or appreciation.  They keep us free and safe and return us home again.  Airports are a treasure and today I say thank you to every single person who works so hard to help it all run deceptively smoothly.  Thank you for your dedication, your professionalism and your kind acceptance of all of us stumbling and bumbling travelers.  Thank you!  Now, bring my husband home safe, OK?

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