I love the sea of humanity that is found swimming in airports across the world. People remain far more interesting than we give them credit for. Most of the time I claim to be too busy to people-watch and oftentimes I don’t go to places swarming with people, so as to keep with my hermit-like tendencies. But the airport is one of the very best places to watch people.
There is a strange joy that fills me when I am able to be smiley and joyful in a sea of people. Some are walking by, oblivious to the world around them, others look harried and rushed, others couldn’t care less that you exist, and the categories stretch onward. Yet I am struck by their humanity. Perhaps that doesn’t explain anything at all.
Let me see. There was the woman with the small child that sat next to me briefly at one of the gates. She was beautiful, in a tired, motherly sort of way and looked a bit older than I would have expected. Her daughter was gorgeous, smiling and capturing the attention of others around her. Her mother was attentive to her, making certain that she didn’t wander into the dangerous traffic flowing past the different gates. The girl was learning to walk and would run from her mother….fall on the floor…begin again with as quick of steps as she could muster…fall to the floor…start crawling away.
Then there was the man who took a seat in a corner on the ground. He arranged his electronics in front of himself and seemed fairly absorbed in them. The little girl saw him from a few feet away, looked at him with interest, and began the journey to him. Stopping a little bit away from him, she looked at him until he noticed her. The smile spread quickly across his face and she mirrored him.
A woman stops in the middle of the walkway, trying to figure out where she is going. She is completely unaware that a little car that transports the elderly/disabled around the airport is right behind her. And is laying on its horn. For a couple seconds she is completely still, lost within herself, and the man is beeping the horn, mere inches behind her. Finally she notices and steps out of the way.
The three men seated next to me at the gate in Chicago are discussing their line of work. It revolves around computer or system programming for some company. They travel often. Most of the time is spent complaining about their bosses or comparing hotel rooms that they are set up in. One man often stays at the Marriott and another gets the Country Inn and Suites. Apparently the Holiday Inn is considered low class, too.
A young woman is bound for Tennessee to visit a college. She briefly inquires if she is at the right gate to a middle-aged woman near her. That was the entrance into a conversation that lead to the couple’s little girl chattering away to the young lady and talking until their seats in the airplane disrupted them.
Pilots walk by in uniform, pulling behind them expertly packed luggage. A flock of flight attendants regroup before heading to their next destination. A worker sweeps up some debris from the carpet and smiles at me when I catch her eye. A couple walks by, each pushing a stroller, trying to get where they need to go on time. A woman gazes critically at the ticket counter and remarks about the poor design to me…and to the lady at the desk when she finally gets there. The lady says a man probably designed it.
Over the intercom a voice announces that first class passengers can now board. Brian Regan quotes flood my mind as I watch people crushing each other to run out of the plane, as a fervor fills people to get to where they need to go with no mind for what others may be doing, as the desk asks for people to check their oversized luggage planeside.
A man behind me keeps cooing to something/someone and I narrow the options down to a dog or a child. He has a dog. I smile at the airport security and anticipate what they will ask of me. Trying to catch her eye, I smile at the lady at the desk who seems to be a little frazzled yet kind. I inquire about how his/her day is going when a security officer asks how my day is.
The days I spent in the airport I felt happy and kind. With this joy, I felt a desire to spread it and be kind to others. At different points I realized that while I wasn’t changing the world in some huge way, hopefully my mere smile was encouraging someone or speaking words I didn’t know or have. I often wonder, “Do they know I follow Christ? Can they tell? Do they think something is different about me? Do they notice?” This should be me every day, not just when I feel like being happy or kind. But it is a good reminder. I need to look for the humanity dwelling within the crowd teeming with people. And in seeing the person, to affirm their individuality and their personhood with the only thing I can in a one second encounter: a smile.