Airports are brutal really. They are not designed for subtle emotions.
Every Christmas Eve wrapping stockings, I re-watch Love Actually. And every time I see that opening clip of people greeting each other at Heathrow airport with Hugh Grant’s voiceover about the twin towers, I burst into tears. Who doesn’t get that moment? And then you pull yourself together and enjoy the rest of the film until – don’t you know it – they close on a similar montage and you start all over again. Richard Curtis you cruel genius.
I’ve actually always loved airports. It’s the feeling that something is happening. No one there is at a stand still in their lives, something’s happening for everyone. So you have all these millions of human stories going on all around you all the time. If your flight departure or someone’s arrival is delayed, you have the best opportunity there can be on the planet for people watching. Who’s with who and why/for how long/what’s next/what’s just happened/what’s their relationship/where are they traveling to and for what/where have they come from/why are they on their own/are those their children? The possibilities are endless.
I find that no matter how stressed I may be feeling at an airport, my compassion for and interest in others is always at its highest pitch. Mothers are fraught, children are fidgety, businesspeople are tired, backpackers are grubby, rockstars are obvious, cleaners are overlooked, baggage handlers get on with it, all humanity is ON THE GO. It’s like seeing everyone with their clothes off, and everyone’s handling it the best they know how. It’s fascinating.
It’s not surprising really that we’re all in an altered state of expectation and reality could spin off sideways at any minute. I mean for heaven’s sake, whatever we have to do to square in our minds getting into a massive tin box and rising above the earth by thousands of feet to shoot across it, has to alter our everyday equilibrium.
So it could be exciting, exhilarating, desperate or scary. Or why not just a little bit of all of that? The perfectly balanced in-flight cocktail.
Yesterday I was at Heathrow to see my two children off to spend half term with their father in California. My two chickadees. My beloved two. On their own, off across the world, in one tin box, together. How could I be OK with that?? How could I stay calm? The risk is so massive, and yet all of us do such things all the time. We just can’t think about it. We’d never get out of bed.
The children and I were all very brave, we were all very upbeat. The loving, meaningful exchanges didn’t happen because my teenage daughter got sassy and I snapped back. Hey ho, not the Hallmark moment you’d like but definitely real.
And I’m sure they’re going to have a fantastic time. They’ll watch all the in-flight movies, catch up with loads of friends, eat In n Out and enjoy time with their dad who has missed them greatly.
But then I watched my two going off down the corridor with their airline guardian. And just for a second you catch their back view when their guard is down, and it’s written there in huge human letters. What we ask of ourselves and each other all the time but cannot refer to.
If I remember that wherever they go they go in the hand of God, I cope. I can trust Him.
So God speed, my brave and bold chickadees. Come back safe.