Airports are strange places. Before I met my wife, I had taken one trip by airplane. Now, air travel has become a somewhat regular part of my life.
Since airplanes have become a frequent mode of travel for me, I have taken one trip with co-workers, one with my wife and stepdaughter, and the rest have been solo. This means I have spent a lot of time in airports with time to think and time to observe those around me.
If you've seen the movie Love Actually, you know that the movie begins and ends at Heathrow in London. As Hugh Grant narrates the opening scene of the movie he speaks about the Arrivals Gate at Heathrow and how it is an ideal place to see that love is actually all around.
I was thinking about that as my wife and stepdaughter dropped me off curbside at the Des Moines International Airport this evening.
For those of you who are accomplished air travelers, you might find the fact that the Des Moines Airport has the title "International" to be somewhat amusing; it's barely bigger than a regional airport. It's not particularly easy to get to either; it's several miles from any major highways.
That being said, I found myself just inside the doors of the airport, looking back at my wife's car, trying to steal one last glance of my beloved. We'd had our parting curbside...one last kiss, one last embrace. We'll see each other in a few weeks, but it didn't make leaving her any easier.
I walked past people standing outside in single digit weather with their luggage, waiting for their friends or families to pick them up. I saw people waiting for the special people in their lives to get off of the planes so they could go home. I moved along with the travelers who, like me were just beginning their journies.
I wonder about how similar or different those people might be feeling to me. As I've said before, I have been blessed with the ability to encourage others to tell me their stories, so I have developed a curiosity about how the stories of others compare to my own story. Maybe some of those people are returning from a long trip, or they are in town for business. Some might have flown on for a wedding; some for a funeral.
I just spent a busy three day weekend with family and friends. I was feeling very tired and was facing the prospect of not getting back to my place in New Mexico until after midnight, knowing that it will not be warm enough to sleep soundly, facing a long drive to an early morning meeting for a job that has recently become more stressful and so very reluctant to leave behind my wife and children.
The airport has become a place of mixed emotions for me these past few months. When I flew home for Thanksgiving this past November, tears of joy came into my eyes when I realized we were flying over fields in Iowa and that soon I would see my loved ones after being apart for months. After visiting my wife's family in Michigan during that trip, I flew back to New Mexico from Detriot. With such a busy airport, all there was time for was a quick goodbye to my wife and a final wave to my nieces and stepdaughter in the car. Coming down from the high of seeing my children for the first time in three months and realizing that in another month, I would have two weeks at home.
Every time I have gone back to New Mexico has been a challenge. Several times over the past few months people have asked me if I like it in New Mexico and my response is always similar: "I'd like it a lot better if I was with my family."
I am really enjoying learning about Navajo culture and there is no doubt I have grown a lot as an individual and spiritually. During my first few months, I did a lot of exploring within a few hours of where I live. I delighted in the natural beauty and the people I met. Lately, as the weather grew cold and I got serious about writing my masters paper, I have not been exploring, I have not been visiting new friends who sell at flea markets a couple of hours away and I have been spending a lot of time alone with my thoughts.
This is what I return to this night..as dangerously cold place with inadequate heating and "hot" water that has been lukewarm at best since I moved in, work stress, endless hours of perfecting my masters, and solitude.
Tonight, the airport is not a place of exuberance and excitement for me; it is the path away from familiarity, loved ones and comfort.
But this is my last planned flight during this contract job.
I will go home for Spring Break, but I will drive. Then it's the home stretch before my contract is completed and I will return home.
I hope the next time I am traveling from an airport, it will be with my wife. Maybe our kids too. My kids have never been on an airplane, and I look forward to giving them the experience of flying to some exciting destination.
Airports, for me have gained some sort of deeper metaphorical meaning; something elusive. In time, I may puzzle that out.
For now, we've begun our initial descent. Soon I'll have to lock my tray table and seat back and power down my portable electronic device...then find my connection. With some hard work, some mindfulness and perhaps a bit of luck, that connection will deliver me to the lessons I have left to learn in New Mexico, and eventually to my final destination.