People Watching in Airports

People Watching in Airports June 4, 2012

I spent good chunks of time over the week-end in three airports, more time spent than in the air getting from point A to B to C.  I do remember the old adage that airports are great places to “people watch.”  So between redeeming time by catching up on reading to traversing concourses, I did “people watch.”   So, my ruminations on people watching at three airports:

  • What about those shoes? I am in my sensible clogs that fit nicely on my feet and firmly grip the floor with ample comfort and protection.  This is unlike what I saw on the countless feet of others, primarily women.  High spiked heels, flimsy straps, no soles, pointed toes.  “How can they walk in those things? Don’t they know what they are doing to their feet?”  Oh, I have become my grandmother.
  • Where is everybody going? My gate of departure at O’Hare was next to the gate for  flights to Orlando.  Two full flights left within a hour of each other in just the time I was there.  The glee of some passengers was obvious:  children with Disney creatures tucked under their arms for perhaps a surprise visit to Disney World.  However, I’m sure there were others heading south for different reasons:  a funeral?  a wedding?   a family emergency?  a much needed job interview?  medical treatment?  family visit? For some, the flight  couldn’t be over soon enough.  For others, I’m sure they didn’t want to board the plane in the first place.  “I wonder about the countless stories of these lives?  How will this trip  change them?”
  • Who  is the voice behind all those announcements? At intervals, a voice would speak, asking “so and so” to call a particular number, or asking “so and so” to return to security to pick up a forgotten item.   The “voice” also reminded us about security threats, and the danger of leaving baggage unattended.   The “voice” issued a specific call when using names of passengers and a general one which applied to all of us.  I am sure that for most, the “voice” was difficult to hear in the hustle of bustle of getting from point A to B (and to C and onward).  Perhaps the”voice” was viewed as an interruption?  too familiar to be taken seriously? too unfamiliar to understand? “How might this represent the variety of ways in which we respond to God’s voice?  Is God’s voice too familiar to many of us, or too unfamiliar?  Are we too busy getting from point A to B (and onward) to hear and heed?”

What remains amazing to me about “people watching” in airports is that for the most part, in this condensed space, people get along.  While there are some snarky moments with well-meaning airline personnel, most of the time, people wait their turn to board, defer to others who need some extra help, lend assistance to those who don’t know where their gate is, and honor the space which their fellow travelers need.  At airports, we see the global world come together.  People from other countries, racial/ethnic groups, rich and poor, and young and old, are for a moment in time, together in a common place.  Yet, I fear the destinations to which we are headed are quite the opposite of this common space found in airports.  We return to our segregated communities of sameness to live with people like us.  And perhaps in these communities of sameness, we have made the Voice which speaks to us too familiar. Perhaps we need to hear God’s  voice in ways that are new and unfamiliar by spending time with fellow travelers who are different from us.  Perhaps the Voice is clearer to them because they are listening more intently. This Voice is crucial for our common destination.



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