I thought I had a love-hate relationship with airports. But after working on this piece, I think the love wins.
My first airport memory is Dallas, 1968. I was 16 years old, a member of a 200-voice youth choir. In my mind I can still see — and hear! — that happy, hyper crowd gathered at the departure gate (like we used-a-could), all us teenagers in blue and white uniforms, and all our families sending us off to tour and sing around Europe. I still marvel at the adults who planned and directed that great trip and I love that merry memory.
I had no idea then that airports would become a common backdrop to many memories. Because I have lived in various countries, and because I have daughters and granddaughters living far away, I have spent a lot of time in airports.
I have a good collection of airport stories: stories of long layovers, of sleeping all night in waiting room chairs, of missing flights and losing luggage. I could give a lecture on ‘people watching at the airport: it’s a small world after all’ or another one about ‘how to keep your cool while standing in a long line of grumpy people.’
I have stories about meeting loved ones in exotic airports. Stories of wedding dresses stuffed in carry ons. Stories about significant conversations. Some funny stories. Many sad goodbye stories. And one or two very special it-just-had-to-be-God stories.
One of my favorite stories happened in the Frankfurt International Airport in Germany. Jake and I had an overnight layover and had returned to the airport early that morning. We checked in our luggage, and were walking down the long corridor towards security. I got chilled so we stopped off to the side so I could pull my sweater from my carryon. I laid my black bag down to open it up and…What? This is not my bag! I’d grabbed the wrong bag off the back of the hotel shuttle bus! Yes, I had. Oh, dear? Who’s bag is this? And where is mine?
Now the fact that I am a friendly and curious/nosey American served me well that day. On the short bus ride that morning, I had chatted with the only other passenger, a gentleman with a full white beard in a long black winter overcoat. I knew he was traveling to O’Hare so Jake and I rushed back to the departure area to look for the next flight to Chicago. At the opening to the check-in line, I saw him, the gentleman in his long black coat, standing next to a full luggage cart. And my carry-on.
“Oh, Sir. Please forgive me. I am so very sorry.”
With only a nod, he acknowledged me, calmly took his bag, and before turning to go, he said these simple words: “All’s well that ends well.”
And that’s why my relationship with airports is more love than hate.
Because so far — thanks be to God — all my airport stories do end well.