Fellow Travelers

When I have time to kill in airports, I wander around. There’s plenty of time to sit when I’m actually on the big ol’ jet airliner, thank you very much.
  
Three airport encounters linger from a recent business trip.

Overheard a 30-something father on the phone with his attorney, fighting for custody of his young son.

“But he came home with a Mohawk haircut!”

A young Army officer bound eventually for Afghanistan.

“I want to prove to myself that I can lead other men.”

A 7-year old girl for whom the excitement of airplanes and airports had faded after suffering through the inevitable flight delays/cancellations that define today’s air travel system.   

“I miss my Daddy and my doggie.”

The single father, trying to do right by his son. That means judges, courts, lawyers, mediators. Not what he envisioned the day his son was born.

The soldier, with faith in an idea and the chain of command. And in his ability to make them both work.

A little girl with her Mom, whose plans to get home came undone by the one system we’ve yet to master: snafu-less air travel.

Anguish. Anticipation. Anxiety.

Human emotion. 

Life.

Unfolding right in front of me, surrounded by tens of thousands of fellow travelers, $5 Diet Cokes and motion-detecting paper towel dispensers at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago.

(I don’t have the knack, btw. I gotta conduct Beethoven’s entire Fifth Symphony in front of the sensor, just to get it to spit out a lousy six inches of one-ply).  

I’m a total stranger to these people.

I guess it’s easier sometimes to have meaningful conversations in the relative anonymity of one of the busiest airports on the planet than it is with people you know.

Probably shouldn’t be that way.

I had nothing for the little girl and her Mom other than a “hang in there.” I shook the Army officer’s hand, wished him luck and thanked him for his service to our country.

Told the custody-fighting father he was doing the right thing. Shared my own similar experience. Tried to offer strength.

And hope.  

Turns out he’s a civil engineer. So he knows systems and how to make them work.
 
You got to go through hell before you get to heaven.  

My life is not without struggles, but c’mon, let’s get real. I woke up that day in a posh downtown Chicago hotel and flew home directly to Manhattan, Kansas. My biggest worry was whether I should wear the white button-down Oxford or the blue.  

(Went w/the blue).

I need to spend more time thinking about others.

Walk a mile in someone else’s wing tips, combat boots or Mary Janes. And then intuit what that person is feeling.

I wish empathy came naturally for me. It does not.

As I approach the precipice, I think I’m better than I used to be, but there’s always room for improvement.