Airport terminals with rows and rows of connected seats are filled with people wearing headphones, or earbuds, or chatting on their phones each time I’m at an airport for travel. Few people make eye contact. Excited children are playing on Mom & Dad’s phones or playing video games on I-pads.
Usually I’m the one with a book. I’m also often the one who talks to total strangers, a lesson I never learned as a child NOT to do – but I’ve sure met some interesting people in airports, and I remember them, even decades later!
There was Linda, the RN who volunteered to sit by me in the last row next to the lady who admittedly had COVID and coughed all the way to Denver. The gentleman who was assigned to that seat didn’t fit in that added row of seats because he was too tall for it. And there was the young lady who just happened to be the niece of the author of the book I was reading on the way home from that very same trip. I met a rapper from Detroit in San Francisco waiting to come back from my 55th birthday trip to visit my friend Shelly, and while the two of us sat there chatting, we shared a “wow!” moment when the entire TV Celebrity Roloff family walked right past us. There was the nice young man who spoke English on the plane when I traveled from Sao Paulo to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and asked me if I was okay when he saw me crying. I wasn’t okay. I was incredibly broken-hearted leaving Brazil. He was so kind. When I flew home from Atlanta I met a truck driver from Montana who told me all about how much he loved his wife, and missed her when he traveled. On my trip home from Korea I sat next to a young kid who was trying to make it home for his mother’s funeral, but we got stuck in Japan for a full day, and then again in Alaska for another 12 hours, and I always wondered if he made it home in time for his mother’s service.
But the person I most remember from my travels was an older gentleman who was on the airplane returning from Berlin to New York with me in 1993. I was eight months pregnant with Ian, and Rory was not quite two years old. I had a back pack I’d strap Rory in on my back, and then of course, there was my big ol’ pregnant belly, a diaper bag, a purse, and two suit cases. When I got on the plane and started settling into our front row, “bulk head” seats, the television fell out of the ceiling and slammed right into my head. This kind gentleman came immediately to my rescue, got a snack for Rory, and an ice pack for my noggin.
Some time during that nine-hour flight I’d gotten up a few times to take Rory to the bathroom.
Now, just imagine pregnant me with a 2-year-old in a tiny little airplane bathroom, and that pretty much sums up the entire travel experience.
But during one of those bathroom trips, I ran into that gentleman again. He was a Colonel in the US Army, retired, and he knew that I was also military, so he shared a memory with me. Apparently, years prior during one of his moves, his wife traveled to Germany several months later to join her husband who had gotten stationed there. She too, was traveling with their small children, and during her travels, there had been a serviceman who had gone out of his way to assist his wife and their kids on and off the airplane, getting their luggage, and getting to their next flight on time. He always wished he could have met and thanked the kind man who had helped his family, but since he couldn’t, he said he could pay it forward, and chose to do that by helping Rory and me.
When we arrived in New York, the Colonel arranged to have someone pick up myself and Rory, along with all of the luggage, and take us to our next gate to connect to Detroit. But there was a terrible snow storm brewing, which kept us there for an extra night, so he went and got us some warm meals, and returned to the terminal where my son and I camped out until our next flight. We said our goodbyes, and he wished me luck.
I was reminded of this recently when my friend sent her young son to Japan for an extended stay, and was relieved when she had heard from him that he arrived safely. He told his mom about his trip, and how someone had assisted in getting him through Customs, finding baggage claim and his luggage, and then navigating his way on two separate busses to get to the next terminal in Tokyo. Right away she recognized that God was using others to care for her son the entire time.
The Bible says “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unaware,” in Hebrews 13:2.
I’m not sure whether or not the angels in airports are the ones wearing ear buds or headphones, but I’m pretty certain I’ve run into a few of them myself. I’ve probably sat next to a few, too.
And heck, even if those who seem like angels, are just really, really, really helpful people – isn’t it pretty neat that they’d be so kind?
It’s almost midnight right now as I write this, but tomorrow, wouldn’t it be a good idea if we all just lost our ear buds, made some eye contact, and paid something forward? Maybe, just maybe, we’d run into an angel. Or maybe we could just be someone that somebody else remembered some day.