My three kids and I fly from New York to London on our way to Paris to visit my husband, who is on a course for work outside Paris. We survive the seven-hour flight relatively unscathed. No diaper blowouts, no inconsolable tantrums, and no glares that can cut glass from disgruntled passengers. (Well, maybe there are a few glares.)
The kids and I actually enjoy flying. Soaring in the sky excites my kids, and they’re content, even pleasant, on airplanes. Hard to believe, I know.
But when we land in London we have to collect our bags and go through security before boarding for Paris. And there it is: Beneath the vast and tall international terminal’s ceiling, there’s a python-sized security line that snakes up and down the airport. We reluctantly join the angry-faced, irritable mass of travelers.
The kids and I are put to the test. Can we keep it together for another 30 minutes or—god forbid—an hour or two without any meltdowns, pee-pee accidents, or snack withdrawals?
We inch along the line. I aggressively kick forward our tattered suitcases. The kids are no longer able to keep their hands to themselves and resort to playing with each other (basically they’re hitting each other) to pass the time. Their inside voices were used up on the plane, and they’re left with their less socially acceptable shrieking and whining loud voices. My patience wanes. I imagine even the pilots and passengers cruising at 35,000-feet above us can hear my kids’ moans.
We move, barely, along in the line. My son’s eyes are uncomfortably dry. I fumble through my Mary Poppins–like bag to find the eye drops and something to wipe his eyes. The contents of my purse, from passports to gum wrappers, are strewn across the glaringly bright-waxed floor for everyone to see.
I’m forever recruiting one kid to move up in the line and chastising another for stepping on the heels of the travelers in front of us. We’re making slow progress towards the security check, only about half way to the front of the line, when the man directly behind us walks right in front of us.
I blink twice, my face goes red with adrenaline and anger, and I exclaim shrewdly: “Did you just cut us?” The otherwise unobtrusive twenty-something says, “Yeah, well, you weren’t moving up.” My voice trembles with rage and I retort, “Are you kidding me?” His unwavering cocky attitude slaps back, and he repeats, “You weren’t moving up.”
My kids are quiet (finally), and they’re watching this exchange like fans in the stands at a Wimbledon match. I tut and demand, “Well, you can get back behind us.” He does.
Seething, I cross my arms to bolster my disapproval and to steady my shaking hands. We continue to creep along the now endless line. I can see the baggage claim in the distance; It’s like a mirage of water in the desert. I want to dive into the baggage claim and extinguish my fury. And then it hits me. I allowed this guy, this kid-free stranger, to enrage me. I gave him that power.
I don’t want to be filled with rage; I want to be filled with love. But how, when someone so rude provokes me like this? Does he have a heart? I wonder. Doesn’t he know what it’s like to travel by yourself with three little kids? Who does he think he is? These hateful thoughts dart around my mind.
I breathe, so forcefully my kids can almost see the cartoon-like steam spewing from my nostrils and ears. And then I mentally pivot.
In the heat of the moment, after a few more strained breaths, I exhale my internal rage, and I choose kindness. After all, my kids are my witnesses. They’re learning from every step I take, whether it’s in the right or wrong moral direction. I remember the gum wrappers and dig into my bag for hopefully a couple more intact pieces of minty-fresh gum.
I pop a piece in my mouth and turn to the guy. His sparse facial hair is a vain attempt to make him look more mature than he is. He’s probably 21 or 22. Humbling myself, I soften my face, lower my gaze, and ask, “Do you want a piece of gum? As an olive branch?” He extends his hand, our eyes lock, and compassion leaps between us.
He replies, “Sure, thanks.”
I turn back around. My shoulders fall with heavy relief, and I focus on moving the kids forward in the line. We silently whip in and out of the S-shaped line, and a few moments later he offers, “Do you need a tissue — for your son?” Holding up a white tissue as if to surrender.
I think back to a few minutes before, when I was frantically searching for a tissue for my son’s eyes and resorted to a greasy used napkin at the bottom of my purse. I decline his tissue. It was too late; I’d already wiped the eye-drop solution from my son’s moistened eyes.
“Thanks, but I got one,” I say politely.
Eventually we reach the front of the line. We’re next. With grace and dignity, I turn to the man, put my hand out and say, “I’m sorry. Let’s be cool, OK?” He offers his hand to me and says, “I’m sorry too. Airports make me act a little crazy.” I assuredly reply, “I know airports can make people lose it, but we don’t have to. We can be kind.”
I’m speaking as much to him as I am to myself and my children.
And with that our hands clasp, and we’re connected. We’re absolved of the anger and the petty feelings. The vitriol drains down to our tired feet and a bridge of empathy forms beneath us. At long last, I approach the security officer and can’t help but say to her, “Do you see that man behind us?”
She glances over. “Yeah,” she replies. “He cut us, and we basically just got into a fight and are friends now — all within the course of that line,” I explain. Slightly confused and surprised, the female officer says, “Really?”
“Really,” I conclude with a smile.
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