I am grateful for airports, not because I am grateful to be going somewhere because I’m not really a fan of travel, for the most part. I don’t like to fly. Not because I fear falling out the sky or crashing into a mountain, but I struggle with confined spaces and lengthy obligations of sitting still.
I enjoy watching people. I find a spot and survey the crowd made up of every size, shape, colour and age. Then I begin to imagine.
I watch the sometimes-gruff security people who probably feel a certain pressure for the safety of those travelling through their “net”. These uniformed officers don’t respond to smiles as a rule, trying to pull off an austere demeanour. They are busy trying to sense some terrorist undertone, some clue as to an evil intent. I find it difficult not to be annoyed when they ask a senior to remove her shoes or tolerate a body pat down. I think she may have earned a pass in this situation, but I suppose that could be a foolhardy position. I purposely have my cheeriest disposition with a happy voice and a bouncy step when I pass through security. I’m not going to let the actions of some terrorist buffoon spoil my airport experience and I’m going to remind those doing the searching that most of us travel to celebrate something, having the privilege to do so. So I stick out my arms while they scan for metals and I remove my belt and my watch and my shoes and my glasses and my coins and then I hop through the scanner. “Hello,” I exhale dramatically while I land in front of them, ready to be searched.
I particularly enjoy arrivals, the joy of reunion that can be witnessed there. The anxious waiting, the tentative smiles, the loud embraces without any hesitation that someone is watching. I can’t help smiling while I watch, as if I can personally feel the joy and it makes me want to wrap my arms around myself and take in the comfort that comes from watching people being loved. I am warmed by the hand-written signs held up, “Welcome Harriett”, the small bouquets of flowers wrapped in clear cellophane, the single rose, the stuffed toy, all symbols of “we are so glad you are here”.
I especially enjoy watching older people greeting one another. I imagine that they’ve been separated for a long period of time and this is a reunion. I watch the years fall away and all that remains is the childhood they shared, or an early romance, or a friendship that time got in the way of and circumstances created a wall between. Everything drops away in that moment when arms embrace one another and cheeks are pressed together, tears of happiness running down and getting mixed together. I find myself sighing, letting my shoulders drop in relief that they have found one another in time, reconnected before it was too late. In those moments there is no religion, no politics, nothing that separates them.
I also notice the introduction of new babies or new partners, the presentation with an arm behind to support and the evident pride on faces. “I did this,” their faces say as they lift the baby up and the grandparents are awed with hands on their chest, wanting to pick up this precious bundle and breathe its magic in. Or the shy extension of a hand in introduction. “This is the person I love,” the face says with bursting admiration and a “please love her, too” shouting out from the smile.
It’s all there in the faces and the motions and the posture. I lean back against the wall and take it all in, eavesdropping on these moments that have nothing to do with me, where I can purely witness and celebrate that love exists, that I have just witnessed the goodness of the world.
Then it is my turn. I gather up my child in my arms and pretend I can make everything right in their lives with that one embrace, as if all the love I have inside is enough to conquer any challenge, any struggle. Then I whisper, “Let’s go home.”