I am sitting in an airport lounge, waiting to board. I’ve already had one flight cancelled today, and my next one is delayed almost two hours. I wonder, as I have often wondered before when this sort of thing has inevitably happened to me and my family (it’s an actual curse) whether I will ever actually get there.
The specific there is not important in an airport. In my experience, once I have arrived there, I am usually going back to another there not long after. My last few years have been ones of impermanence, a succession of theres that almost makes sitting in an airport lounge that smells of stale human and Clorox listening to the garbled English (?) of the person whose sole job seems to be to deliver announcements feel a little…homeish. In a strange, I-don’t-know-anybody-here-and-I-probably-look-insane-frowning-at-my-computer-screen kind of way.
When you think about it—which, let’s be honest, we don’t, because airports are just a part of our lives now—airports are weird. They’re not just portals from one place to another. I think we like to label them that way, as not places themselves, because it makes more sense out of the disjointed community of an airport. If we don’t see it as a place in which to be present, even to the extent of being present to the people around us, it’s easier to avoid interaction. As an introvert, I am guilty of this; I habitually exploit this unique context where it is socially acceptable not to talk to anybody. In some ways, the anonymity, the feeling of not-being-known, is desirable and comfortable.
We sit inches away from another person, and yet do not speak. Our elbows may accidentally rub. A blush, an embarrassed side-glance—that is usually it.
And when there is conversation—the invariable one about where you’re going, who you’re seeing, where you’ve been, it still feels bizarre.
Frankly, I don’t like airport conversations—not because I don’t like making connections, but because 99% of the time, that connection is going to step off of the plane, and I’ll never see her again.
I know that she has a granddaughter named Annie who’s three-and-a-half and loves the color yellow because buttercups are her favorite flowers. I know that she’s worried Annie’s parents spend too much money on buying her presents she doesn’t need. I know that she loves to play Scrabble but claims she isn’t very good at it. I know that her husband has just had a hip replacement and that she is more afraid of falling now, as winter is coming and their back porch gets slippery on damp mornings. “It’s not a very nice thing to be old, dear, you’ll find that out,” she says. “Much less flutter and heartache—but a lot more backaches. I don’t know which I’d prefer.” I reply that I don’t know either. After we have landed, she turns around in the aisle and waves a paisley scarf at me before disappearing into the crowd. Part of me sighs.
It costs something to have that connection—and most days, we are too busy for new people and new stories anyway because we want to get on with it. We have a destination, a goal—let’s get there. Never mind the in-between.
We are rarely content simply to be in airports. We must, in a magnified image of the rest of our lives, always strain towards the next step. Always waiting.
There’s a short, sad story about a nameless woman who, every day, waits for her train to arrive. The reader knows this train will never come, that she will spend her lifetime waiting for the never-realized. We pity her—until we realize with an unsteady flutter of nerves that we are her.
Let’s not just wait, not just anticipate. Let’s practice be-ing. I don’t really know what that looks like. Maybe it’s a willingness to turn to the person beside us and have a conversation, sacrificing a tiny part of ourselves and an infinitesimal corner of our hearts knowing that there is only a present, and not a future, for this connection. Maybe it is about observing the hodge-podge of people around us, the young woman at the cashier shop who looks tired but still smiles genuinely, the college student with a USC sweatshirt who, head thrown backwards, is snoring gently. And maybe it is just about, somehow, allowing ourselves to rest in the moment.