Airport Goodbye

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I'm sitting at the Tucson airport waiting for a flight to Oakland. While I hate flying, I have a fondness for airports, probably from doing way too much traveling as a youngster. There was a brief part of my childhood spent living with my mom in the Republic of Panama when she worked for the Panama Canal Company.

I'd get shipped off to Tucson a couple of times a year. Back then, there was no security. My large extended family would greet me when I got off the plane--lots of kisses and hugs. Tucson's airport, small today, was much smaller then. My cousins and I would run down the ramp leading to baggage claim and then take a look at the resin-encased scorpions for sale in the gift shop.

Today, we have all grown accustomed to getting to the airport early, going through security and putting on our shoes on the conveyer belts. The extra time is good for reading, but I can't help but keep my eyes on a family standing around their father on the other side of the terminal.

The father is wearing U.S. Army fatigues. It's obvious where he's going. His wife, almost too beautifully dressed and coiffed at 7:30 a.m., keeps a smile on her face, and his daughter and two sons talk to him during the wait. (Military families, unlike regular families, are still allowed to go to the departure gates.) The announcement for boarding goes out. The family starts to walk him to the line. They begin to say regular goodbyes. Everyone gives him a hug, but his daughter refuses to let go and walks him up to the line.

I keep staring. I can't stop. And my eyes tear up. I had already started reading Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking, which didn't help matters before the family caught my eye. As I go to wipe my eyes and make sure real tears aren't descending down my cheeks, I see a guy sitting across from me staring at me. Great, I think. Is he thinking, "This lady is losing it?" He has no clue I'm doing my own staring--completely entranced by this family's deeply private moment. I can't help it.

The family decides to stay aside with the father up until the last minute, up until final boarding call. The daughter holds on to one side of her father, while the mother holds on to the other. The boys stand in front of their father. The mother's body begins to shake as she cries once final boarding call is announced. The daughter cries, too, while the sons look on and sometimes look away.

I'm thinking about a previous blog post I made about how, right now, Americans aren't prepared to make the sacrifices needed to help repair what we've done to the environment. There are Americans, however, that are making sacrifices in the crazy war this Bush administration has gotten us into. This family is one example. Those daughter's tears and her arms wrapped around her father--how can I forget that image?

As the father turned away to board the plane and his family stood there holding on to each other, I realized that while I didn't have any right to stare, I certainly have no right to forget their airport goodbye.

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