Poetry Is People Watching In An Airport

“Then a text message comes. You look down to see who is trying to reach out before you’re unreachable. Then you get further distracted and check your email. You look on social media and get lost between what’s happening in other’s lives… Or at least what they’re trying to portray.”

I used to come to the airport in high school to work on my homework. There was something that intrigued me about watching all the different walks of life move from terminal to terminal. You could survey the hellos with a delicate smile because you felt connected to these strangers from a distance. You could witness the goodbyes with a pang in your chest because you know what it’s like to part with a loved one. Somehow in one of the most crowded of spaces you could feel connected to bounds of strangers by merely observing from afar.

Years later, as I prepare for my first trip to Asia, I reflect on all of the stints when I was one of the faces that populated the check-in counters. I look back at my goodbyes and find it so curious that I never really knew at that moment I’d eventually say goodbye to these same people for good. Then I think back to my hellos and realize there are some people I can always count on to be there. For instance, no matter how easy it is just to idle in the cellphone waiting lot and pick me up on my curb, my parents will leave early, they’ll park, and they’ll wait outside the security area 30 minutes before my arrival with dinner ready at home.

 But do we ever stop to ponder the stranger’s faces we try to avoid and where they’re going?

Then I began to think about everything that happens between the hello and the goodbye. We go through such a tedious routine from the shuffling through papers at the ticket counter, stripping of bags and shoes at the security check, debating lingering in the extensive line for Starbucks, and immediately searching for the nearest outlet to charge our phones… Because no matter where we are headed, there is a need to be connected to someone prior to the last few minutes before take off.

As we move in the predicted path, as if footsteps are marked from the departure lane all the way to our assigned seats, do we ever consider where everyone else is going? We walk with such a determination to get to where we’re heading… But do we ever stop to ponder the stranger’s faces we try to avoid and where they’re going? Are our lives that superior and that significant that we can’t take a moment to notice the sea of life around us?

When you sit waiting for boarding, for what is most likely a delayed flight, look up from your phone once in awhile. Do you see that couple over there? His hand is lying lightly on his significant other’s knee. She’s reading a magazine and he’s smiling at the way her eyes move across the pages. She’d never notice this… but you can. What a simple moment to see affection in the present. Is this their first vacation? Has he told her that he loves her? Maybe it’s their honeymoon. Consider the story that lives between his palm and her jeans. It’s your first notion for how much life exists between the faces you normally dismiss.

 You smile at their possibilities.

Glance at the mother with the screaming child hiding in the corner of the seating block. You wonder where the husband is. You see the anxiety on her forehead as she tries to breath relief because she can’t find it elsewhere. You watch the kids run around in circles because their biggest problem is who gets tagged you’re it. But then as the moment transpires you see the love in the mother’s eyes when the baby stops crying and the sibling sits down and lays his head on his mother’s lap… Worn out from happiness. Maybe they’re headed to Disney World, or maybe she’s reuniting with her husband over state lines. Maybe they’ll get a babysitter and she could fix her tasseled hair and apply the lip-gloss she never uses because her child likes to touch anything that’s shiny. You smile at their possibilities. You grin at the opportunities the two kids have. Who knows what they’ll be when they grow up.

Then a text message comes. You look down to see who is trying to reach out before you’re unreachable. Then you get further distracted and check your email. You look on social media and get lost between what’s happening in other’s lives… Or at least what they’re trying to portray. You do all this and you miss the life that’s really happening in front of you. If you looked up, you’d see the old man walking slowly to an open seat. If you picked up your head you could see the history that’s weighing down the pleasant wrinkles in his face. His smile is worn, but it’s definitely still there. He’s alone but walks like he isn’t lonely.
He holds all of his papers in his hand, most likely because in an earlier generation he learned to not let go of things that are tangible and important. He doesn’t rush his movements. He nods at the people passing him with contrasting speed. Some of them smile in return, and some look back shocked that a stranger would offer a sign of recognition. Is this his first flight, or his hundredth? Maybe he’s scared to fly and lost the person who would hold his hand to take the fear away. Maybe he’s been gone for awhile now, and he’s finally going home. Or maybe he’s going on an adventure because he knows it’s never too late to chase your dreams.

 Some look back shocked that a stranger would offer a sign of recognition.

Most likely, you began reading this and thought it was creepy to people watch in a public place (even if we’re all guilty of it). But if you open your mind and ignore the pigeonhole, you can see the world in a whole new perspective. Everyone has a story. These faces that you pass, the ones looking down at their phone, the anxious ones, the tired ones, the giggling and excited ones, they’re all characters in Destiny’s story. The world has been spinning the tale that is our existence. You’re connected in the moment, maybe by coincidence or maybe by fate. But that’s why you can link with their helloes and goodbyes, because you exist in the moments in between.

Next time you’re in an airport, observe the world around you. Take in the subtle cues, the minimal expressions, and the magic that extends far past the end of the Starbucks line. There’s a whole world out there and all these people are living their own version of life in it. Take it all in between the baggage check and the baggage claim. Then think to yourself, when the plane takes off, what’s your story? Where are you really headed?

Photo Credit: We Heart It

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