I believe in talking to people at the airport. Having the worst luck flying, I frequently find myself sitting alone in the airport. Despite trying to avoid it, I inevitably find myself talking with the stranger sitting next to me. I used to feel bothered at this disturbance of my personal space, my efforts to maintain separation from this sea of strangers. But then I began listening. In the short time of a layover, strangers give me the gift of their story, their experiences, and the people and things that are important to them in life. This last time I traveled (and endured a 3 hour delay), the gentleman next to me told me about his respect for the guys with whom he works (who he each described by first and last name), his new fiancé, his 9 siblings, and how much he loves his ailing mother for whom he cares. Woven within his story were their stories. I was amazed by this man and by his story. We were strangers in the airport; but maybe, I thought as he talked, we weren’t so very much different or really strangers at all.
This is what I have learned from airports. We are all on a journey. We are all trying to get somewhere. We’re all doing the best we can to get there. We all have people that we love and care about, people who we take with us on whatever journey we are on, people we leave behind. We carry them in our hearts and our memories. We share these people and these experiences in our stories. We all look for the eye contact, the smile, the invitation of a stranger to learn a little bit more about who we are, where we come from, and where we are headed. We all need someone to listen to us. In every moment of our journey, we are looking for a connection…and not just for our connecting flight. One more story. One time, sitting on a plane, I observed the woman diagonally from me who was intently watching the woman in front of me, a young mother with an infant in her arms, deep in exhausted sleep. Thinking “that’s weird,” I made eye contact, smiled, and took off my headphones. The watching woman sighed, smiled, and shrugged her shoulders saying, “I just can’t take my eyes off of them. I want to make sure they are ok.” I was moved. This woman was keeping watch over a stranger and her infant, ready to catch them should they hit turbulence or start to slip from their seat. If that’s not a lesson for life, I don’t know what is. I still tear up thinking about it. I believe maybe we’re not all such strangers after all; and we should look out for one another. This is why I believe in talking to people at the airport, and most of all in listening. We all need connections.