Airports are strange places, I think as I stand in front of the gate waiting for my father to arrive. His flight is not the only flight to arrive this early afternoon, and a flood of people is coming through the gate. Faces, strange faces, blur into each other, all looking the same. They are special to someone, I’m sure, each of them possessing the ability to light up the face of a few loved ones. But they are strangers to me, and they are annoying because the human clutter they create interferes with my ability to locate my father in the crowd.
Twenty minutes pass by. The little airport screens tell me that his plane has already landed. Where is he? I squint, cursing my useless pair of near-sighted eyes, that probably require a new contacts prescription yet again. What if I can’t locate him? What if his face blends into everyone else’s and they all look the same, what if I never find him?
Of course that does not happen. Suddenly I see his dear face in the crowd, his tired face. My eyes light up as I hurry towards him, and his face lights up as he sees mine. Warm embrace, here, let me help you with your luggage. We are unimportant strangers to everyone else here, but to each other, right now near the gate and headed towards the conveyor belts, it is just he and I, talking excitedly, exchanging news, showering questions on each other.
Airports are emotional places. Three years ago, my children spent a full month away from me, for the first time, staying with their grandparents. I told myself and my husband that this was our opportunity to enjoy life as a couple again, the way we did before they were born, and we did – we traveled and dined and enjoyed each other in the focused, non-scattered way that becomes a luxury once you have kids. But deep inside I knew I was missing my children terribly. When they finally came back (my husband flew to bring them), I went to meet them at the airport.
On the way to the airport, a tight knot started forming inside my throat, growing larger the closer I got to the terminal. Waiting at the International Arrivals area in San Francisco Airport, the knot became unbearably big, interfering with swallowing, with breathing. Then I saw them, the little darling faces of the people most important to me in the whole world, and I started crying. I cried hard, shaking, amazed and a little embarrassed at the sound of my own uncontrollable sobs. My children were taken aback at first, asking me why I was sad, and I, through sobs and tears and laughter, explained that my tears were tears of joy.
Airports are strange places, I think as father and I leave the terminal and head to the parking lot. I glance one more time at the airport I’m leaving behind. It’s one of the busiest, most chaotic and stressful places I know, yet it is also the place where, year after year, I greet my loved ones and they greet me.