I spend a lot of time in airports. Sometimes I read, sometimes I talk to strangers hearing their stories and sometimes I just watch, open to what I might hear without an exchange.
The sister who arrived was overjoyed to see her brother and her father. After a long hug with her brother, his small poke at her brought full and bright smiles to their faces removing the years between now and long ago. Once finished, their long look at each other was a telling expression how both of them are worried about their Dad in the wheel chair. Family life at it’s best moving through inevitable, and difficult, change. It was a definition of bittersweet. Sometimes we must find a place, sad as it may be, of simple acceptance of how things are regardless of what we recall the past being.
A husband picked up his wife but not her luggage. There was no kiss, no waiting for her, she was several steps behind not noticing the courtesy he no longer gives her. Perhaps he hadn’t previously offered her better treatment. I wondered if they were the couple who sits in restaurants without speaking to one another. I wondered if they are people who live in a house of chronic anger and disregard? Sometimes we’re invisible. How did it happen? Is being invisible acceptable every day in a relationship? When did they stop liking each other? When did they stop respecting themselves and each other?
The wife who kissed her husband first while they waited for her luggage. She let just the tips of her fingers graze his hip. Their conversation was met with equal interest and mutual response. He didn’t have to ask which suitcase was hers. He knew, retrieved it and as they walked away his hand tenderly touched the middle of her lower back as they walked single file through people. Past the crowd, their hands settled together fully reconnecting. The ease of their routine was a telling sign of years spent together. They sought each other, finding each answering the other– it was a good reminder of how love arrives and engages through small every day mannerisms.
In an airport bar I met a woman who was on the way to see her brother. She asked if she could sit with me as there weren’t any tables available. I said yes and in the next thirty minutes I learned that she was flying to visit her brother who was on death row. He was guilty of terrible crimes she could not understand. He was also her brother. The weight she carried with her was staggering. They did not have an easy path or a happy childhood. They each were different—her pulling away from a life that would have been easy for her adopt and choosing a harder path. Her feeling the judgment of others who were horrified at her brother’s crimes who pulled away from her as if his choices made her contagious. I listened to her tell me in a quiet voice about her anger with him. Her hopelessness to change the situation and her emotional confusion and exhaustion of experiencing everything at once were tangible. Regardless of his choices, he was her brother, he was going to die and she wanted him to have someone who cared—so she cared. She continued to show up. She gave love when she had no answers. Sometimes the depth of sacrifice and pain others are willing to experience to be generous and offer love is extraordinary and beyond what can be measured.
From 2003 to 2007 I experienced a large number of women in airports who had an unmistakable energy and look in their eye. There were so many women who had this look that I began to identify it. All of them were mothers. All of them were on their way to Washington, D.C. All of them wanted the same thing—an answer. They wanted to know how their sons and daughters died as no one had given them an answer. I held a lot of shaking hands, looked at cherished photographs and heard how extraordinary they felt their children were. I heard about their children’s talents, musical ability and their sense of humor. One mother had lost two sons within four months. Her stark pain was as tangible as a fog that settles thick enough that you must pull over the car and wait it out. Pain is pain. You can’t measure it. You can’t imagine it and it defies being quantified. It is pain—full, demanding and encompassing. We want to comfort people in pain. We want to make it better and tell people to look on the bright side. Sometimes just allowing another person to be in pain and to have a space all their own is the most loving comforting offering.
Each one of these people who shared themselves expressed surprise after they spoke. They told me how they weren’t used to opening up to others. They told me how one piece or another of their stories wasn’t something they had said before. I told each of them how privileged I felt that they told me. I told them I would not forget and I would remember them. I felt honored to hear their heart. Some part of who they are remains with me.
Sometimes we say it is easier to tell a stranger. Perhaps it is. Perhaps it feels less risky as we don’t have to see our pain reflected back to us again and again. I hope it’s not a lasting truth or a majority choice. Allowing ourselves to be known is the path to feel understood and loved.
We cannot stop the organic changes of living. We can make sure we are living fully and not invisible to others, especially those we are intimately engaging. We will not understand or like everything someone else chooses but we are able to decide to love without conditions. Relationships are conditional and should be shored up with great personal boundaries but sometimes loving someone is not. Sometimes just loving does not need to have conditions. Ask any parent. Express your grief, express your happiness, know that you won’t have all the answers but if you choose it, you can have all the love. Sometimes that begins by giving love first.