Archived Story

Unexpected joy at baggage claim

Published 10:29am Thursday, July 11, 2013

This past weekend, I picked up my boyfriend A.J. at the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta.

He was flying back from a weeklong family trip in Delaware, so I fought the traffic and drizzly weather and made my way to the busiest flight hub in the Southeast.

I parked in the hourly parking and crossed into the baggage claim area. For those of you familiar with the Atlanta airport, you know that visitors are allowed through the baggage carousels laden with luggage to the arrival area.

All exiting plane passengers on the way to domestic baggage claim come up a series of long escalators, and family members and friends can wait behind a semi-cordoned-off area, eagerly watching for their travelers.

An airport is arguably the best place to people-watch, and as I arrived half an hour before my boyfriend’s flight landed, I had plenty of time to do so.

Around me stood strangers’ loved ones: elderly men in coats and ties; posh, middle-aged women in heels, sundresses and sunglasses (yes, even inside); bedraggled fathers corralling antsy, wiggly children; and blank-faced teenagers, hands in pockets and headphones on their ears, to name a few.

Yet as I stood there, awkwardly shifting from foot to foot and checking the arrivals board for the status of my boyfriend’s flight, I noticed a commonality in all of the others waiting with me.

As soon as their father, daughter, husband, wife, sister, family member or friend arrived, the faces of those who had been waiting would light up with recognition.

The person arriving would make his or her way to the awaiting party, and each one was greeted by a loving hug or kiss.

Some hugs were quick and formal. Others were loud, exuberant and drawn out.

One woman burst into happy tears upon seeing another woman, and the two stood rocking and embracing for so long I thought airport security might usher them along as their bags were blocking walking traffic.

An older man, obviously part of the women’s group, stood smiling with tears in his eyes before beginning to collect the bags surrounding the oblivious and blissful ladies.

A few minutes later, a mother came walking up, a toddler holding her index finger. She had spotted the child’s father sooner than the child did, and she leaned down toward the little boy and said, “I see daddy! Where’s daddy?”

The boy looked confused, scanning the unfamiliar faces before finally spotting his father’s familiar one.

The delight on the child’s face and the squeal he let out before making a wobbly run toward his father and being scooped up in his arms was the purest, happiest thing I have witnessed in quite some time.

Eventually my boyfriend made his way up the escalator and received his own excited embrace. We made our way out of the airport, hand in hand, but I glanced one last time over my shoulder with a smile at the arrivals area.

There is so much sadness in this world – war, crime, greed, poverty. You can’t turn on a 24-hour news channel without hearing about the latest tragedies around the world, and sometimes it seems too much to bear.

But seeing so many strangers come and go, so many happy embraces, was an incredible reminder of how loving the human spirit can be – how we all need people in our lives who can help us deal with the barrage of sadness we face every day.

I hope we can all find those small, happy moments in life that remind us of the reason why we’re all here – to love and be loved.

Spears is general manager and managing editor for The Outlook.