“Welcome back,” a straight-faced immigration officer often says when he returns my just-stamped passport.
Those two unexpected words always touch my heart, and I reply with a heartfelt, ‘Thank you’ and legally enter the United States of America.
Are the agents required to say that to all returning citizens, or am I just lucky to be greeted with those words?
Quito International Airport (Arrivals) – Hey, I think I know those people! Hank and Marie Groff (pictured above) illustrate their mastery of positive airport experiences.
After placing my passport back in its proper place and double checking the boarding pass gate details for my connecting flight, I proceed to baggage claim – if needed – and then follow the maze of signs.
While preoccupied with flight arrivals and departures, one rarely has time to notice the other travelers and workers in the airport setting. Many times when I step on that ‘this will get you there a bit faster’ moving-floor option, I always look at my fellow travelers. Few people are smiling. When eye contact is made, I quickly smile or grin before they have a chance to look away, as if one might be arrested if caught interacting with a stranger!
There are other reasons to stay serious while navigating airports; those little bullet trams demand intense focus – to confirm you’re getting on the right one as a computerized voice reminds you to stand away from the door. Most of the people seem catatonic, as if any personal interaction might cause them to fall from the tram or miss their flight.
Long long ago, a 4-H judge awarded me top prize in showmanship after my ‘runaway steer’ pulled me around the arena. The judge quietly said, “Honey, don’t you EVER lose that smile.”
Realizing that I am also caught up in the hamster cage, I release that clenched-jaw tension and smile. I smile to remind myself that the world will not stop if I miss my flight. I then try to pass that smile to others and remind them to savor the moment. To watch someone’s tightened expression suddenly transform into a light-hearted smile touches my heart. There are times when a tired irritable toddler refuses to stop crying. When possible, I look into his/her eyes and ask, ‘Hey! What’s wrong? I’ll bet you are tired. Or hungry.’ That almost always halts the crying, and the child adjusts to the unexpected encounter (distraction!) with the stranger.
Surely these children were obediently sitting with orders not to move! They did not want to smile either!
If English is not their primary language, I then start chattering in English, and the child looks at me as if I am the star attraction of the circus! I talk for about a minute, then tell the child, ‘Goodbye!’ and go on my way. Almost always, the tears and heavy heart are forgotten, and the airwaves remain blissfully peaceful as the child and baffled parents wonder, ‘Who was that grinning woman?”
Some days my inner smile expands so much that I wonder if my heart might burst, and during those times of self-inspection, I worry that I might cry. Why is it so easy for me to find joy in the everyday experience of Life, and why is it so difficult for others? I do not know why, but I am grateful that through the random luck of the genes that make me ‘Z’ – I have evolved into a very happy person.
2011- Brookhaven Airport (Mississippi) Surely the man didn’t just say, “You can use it as the courtesy car”!!!
This next month I will be traveling back to the alluvial flatlands of my childhood – the Mississippi Delta and surrounding area.
Atypical of my usual WordPress writing style, I will be observing and recording my thoughts with pen and paper and will pause every so often to transcribe and share with you. A month is not a long time when the circle of my loved ones stretches from the Gulf Coast to Memphis, across the Mississippi River to Little Rock Arkansas and back down to Natchez. Continue reading