Monday, April 24, 2006

Travel Day

If nothing else, travel days are almost always fascinating and sometimes for the oddest of reasons.

Here’s what happened yesterday:

My flight for Burbank is scheduled to leave Phoenix at 4:10 but I get to the airport at 1:30 so I check out the options. Yeah, right. Turns out NASCAR’s in town (who knew?) and everything’s booked solid. Plus the clerk says no matter what, my luggage will be on my original flight.

Fine. I’ll spend some quality time at the bar.

On the way to security, I’m walking down the concourse when the most ungodly wail fills the terminal. The kind so filled with grief, you fear the person herself may expire. Instantly, I zero in on the source. I see a young girl—maybe late teens, early twenties—who’s collapsed in a heap against a wall. Every few seconds, silence falls—as though she’s so overcome with sadness, she can’t make a sound--then suddenly shrill devastation shatters the air again.

A few feet away, I see another girl about the same age (sisters maybe?) listening to a cell phone with numb disbelief. Tears stream down her face too, and I can tell she’s struggling to comprehend what she’s being told.

An older woman (too young for a parent, a grandparent maybe?) stands by the younger woman’s side, awkwardly patting the girl’s shoulder and appearing uncertain.

Everyone else is staring, but everyone keeps moving.

I pass by the scene and get in line at security behind two teenage boys who turn several times to glance back over their shoulders. I murmur something and they murmur something back.

You don’t get to be 52 without having had similar moments in your life. The ones where you can almost point to the time on a clock and say how your life changed from one second to the next.

As I stood waiting for my turn at the checkpoint, I couldn’t help wondering what had happened to change these girls’ lives. A parent’s death? A sibling’s? Was it a coincidence that they heard the news while at the airport? They were on the departure level; had someone died before they were able to reach them? Why did they have to hear the news on a cell phone? Why did the moment that forced them to grow up have to happen in front of so many strangers?

All questions I’ll never know the answers to.

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