At 11:07, near Gate 75, I nearly fall asleep while typing, wondering if there is any point in even trying to capture these thoughts in a meaningful way. It is not only a moment of personal exhaustion but also of worldwide panic. If I don’t concentrate on something, though, I’ll fall asleep and miss what could be one of the last planes leaving for my other home.
It was supposed to be a flight out of Syracuse originally, then JFK. But at the end of a crazy day, I’m in Toronto, because the chances of actually getting back to Brasil from here seemed higher.
It’s only one day sooner than I was supposed to leave, and there is no denying the conviction that I need to get out before the door closes. As wonderful as the past 8 months of home assignment have been, the time has come to leave. Whatever happens in the coming weeks and months, my American home is not the place to wait it out.
After my dad and a friend from church dropped me off, I verified that the flight was still on time, then paused, overwhelmed with gratitude and relief tinged by uncertainty. The normal emotions of saying goodbye and heading off alone were accompanied by slight guilt for leaving a place and people that I love in a time of crisis.
Holding back tears, I wished my phone had enough battery left to watch the video of “Confidence”, the song four friends played and sang as a going-away surprise in church yesterday.
A woman walks down the hall many yards away. From that distance, her red coat looks like the one a friend has been wearing all winter. For a split-second, my heart jumps with a thrill of joy, then falls immediately when I realize that my friend, who I said goodbye to less than 7 hours ago is back in Lowville, and we won’t see each other for three years.
And already I miss her and her family so much that my eyes fill with tears, prompting the question,
“Why am I even doing this if it hurts so much?”
But now is no time for reflection or meditation, or meltdowns. I must stop thinking about friends and family and all the special memories shared in recent days. That will have to wait.
So I go into travel mode instead, and get in the Air Canada line to check my bags.
Having pushed aside the grief of departure, I suddenly remember how much I love airports. As liminal places, where transition is the norm, not the exception, airports facilitate both reunions and farewells, and are portals for people embarking on new adventures.
If I lived in a city with an airport, I would go there frequently to get work done. It would be an ideal place to think and pray and write, with plenty of events to watch and people to meet during study breaks. Despite certainty that a direct flight was the wiser choice this trip, it was actually rather disappointing that this new flight eliminated my 11-hour study time during the intended connection in Miami.
But back to Toronto. In less than half an hour, in addition to checking two 70-pound suitcases, I was able to:
- Chat with an endearing family from Johannesburg, South Africa, whose holiday in Canada was cut short and who were very enthusiastic to hear that I’ll be doing Bible translation.
- Meet a lady who has to have a layover in Brasil and is hoping not to get stuck there as she attempts to find a way home to Chile in the midst of cancelled flights and closing borders.
- Help an Asian man figure out how to make water come out of a fountain. He expressed his gratitude enthusiastically with a series of bows and a huge smile.
- Encourage a young, exhausted-looking mom of a two-year-old boy, who had to cancel travel plans to visit his daddy in Trinidad.
- Talk with a man heading to visit his family in Pakistan, where, according to him, they are safe from the virus.
Did I mention that airports are delightful? Besides the thrill of every takeoff, I love meeting people, hearing their stories, making connections, and sharing Jesus.
Did I also mention that airports are confusing? Staying up all night to finish packing didn’t contribute to mental clarity.
Three proofs of my exhaustion:
- Trying to go through security with the baggage cart.
- Misinterpreting the gestures of an agent, thinking he was telling me to dump my water, which I was planning to do anyway, when he was actually directing me to a different door.
- Walking through security with my sneakers on the whole time, never even thinking about taking them off until other people were putting theirs back on.
In my defense, by the time the sneakers incident happened, I was focused on a new temporary life mission: Cheer Up as Many Security Workers as Possible in Two-Minute Encounters. Most of them seemed really grumpy and irritable, which totally makes sense with all they must be dealing with recently.
Unfortunately, the only joke that came to mind was one I made up today with a reference to the book of Habakkuk. Since that would not be universally appreciated, I stuck with smiling and making an extra effort to be grateful and friendly.
The security workers must have been almost as overtired as I was, since they didn’t notice my sneakers. Or maybe they simply chose not to say anything out of kindness, because this is not a typical night in a typical airport.
Today, nearly everyone who is flying is facing unexpected circumstances or life changes or cancelled plans because of a global crisis. And that goes for people who aren’t in airports as well.
A virus so tiny we can’t see it is changing our world in ways so huge they cannot be denied.
We are fragile, vulnerable, formed from the dust to which we are destined to return.
Yet disease and death are not invincible superpowers. They will not be the end of the story for anyone who is in Christ Jesus.
As He said to Martha, four days after her world had fallen apart, “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.” John 11:25
If we believe in Jesus, we have eternal life today, right now.
We, as people of the resurrection, have the opportunity to breathe Jesus’ life to those who only sense the death and darkness, the chaos and confusion of these moments.
What words of life and hope and joy can we speak to people around us?
In the midst of isolation and social distancing and separation, will we encourage others, intentionally building bridges of relationship in new and creative ways?
Even though our specific situations and responses to challenge and loss vary, can we be honest about feeling some combination of frustration, fear, anxiety, grief, or other messy emotions?
Can the solidarity of knowing we are all facing sudden unprecedented change connect us to the rest of humanity in a way that wasn’t possible before?
Will we have the confidence to believe and declare that Jesus, the Resurrection and the Life, is still at work in and through our lives, and in this chaotic world?