I have just spent some time at the airport ushering our youngest off to another year of college. Where did the summer go? Where did the years go? As I stood watching the people coming and going, greeting one another and saying goodbye, I was once again flooded with the realization that, odd as it may seem, airports are often holy ground. Even with all the sterility and suspicion that has invaded what was once a place of excitement and even glamor, there is still something wonderful that happens in an airport. As people form lines and file past those who look us directly in the face and play a match game with our present image and one that exists on a small plastic card, we participate in a transition from one place to another that still seems impossible, even magical, to me. Within the span of a few hours we can move from one climate to another, from one language to another, from a place of comfort to one that is quite foreign.
But it is the airport itself that always brings me up short. Today I was once again reminded of the opening scene to the film ‘Love Actually’. Have you seen it? It begins with image after image of people moving through an airport. As it begins to unfold you realize you are seeing individuals and families reunite. Over and over, there are embraces, kisses, hugs, smiles, tears, gifts exchanged. The faces are of varying ages, ethnic backgrounds. The people are dressed in a myriad of ways from casual to formal. The act that unites them is their joy in greeting someone they love.
Today I stood on the other side of that picture. It was the ‘saying goodbye’ place. Lovers kissed before parting at the rope that would divide the traveler from the one left behind. Grandparents hugged babies and small children for one last time before these young families headed back to their own home. In the elder’s embrace was the sure knowledge that these little ones will change perhaps drastically before they see them again. Business travelers quickly pecked a partner on the cheek before heading off to another trip that will take them away for only a short time. There were a few lucky vacationers,those who still had the look of summer about them. They quickly hugged the loved one who had dropped them off at the airport for just one more slice of freedom. And of course, there were a couple of parents like myself, the ones with a Year’s worth of luggage, sending their dear ones off for another installment in their college career. Our hugs were filled with a mixture of emotions defined by how far and how often that parenting cord had been unfurled. Saying goodbye to a freshman is very different than the one said someone in their junior year.
These mammoth buildings built to move people from one place to another were created for safety, efficiency and comfort. In airports, most people simply want to get from point A to point B with a limited amount of hassle and the maximum amount of ease. With a few places for a good, quick meal in between.
But anyone who needs a good dose of hope in the human capacity for love need only spend a few moments standing outside the exit door that leads people from an arriving flight. Watch the faces descending the escalator search the crowds for that face that looks back expectably and see the searching eyes turn into smiling ones. Be present to the arms that reach out, the heads coming together in kisses and words of welcome and relief. “You’re here! You’re home.” These are the moments that provide a picture of what matters. Humans reconnecting. Hands holding. Hearts opened. Love shared.
A time of transition is settling over not only our home but the season itself. By next week all children and young people will be back in school. The rhythm of the year will shift and take on a new shape that is yet to be known. Soon the trees and the landscape will take on a different form, new colors will emerge from what was green. Life is change and change is life.
But if I need a reminder of what does not change, I can always head to the airport. I can watch as hellos and goodbyes are said. I can be witness to the coming together of people who are overjoyed to see one another or are bereft to see a loved one leave. And so it goes. Over and over again.
And would we have it any other way? I don’t think so.