It was an early morning flight, two days after a big snowstorm, and the security lines were packed full of people.
We were a collection of individuals, all focused on getting through the drudgery of the airport process: take off shoes, laptops out of bags, any liquids? I try to remain positive but I have to admit my default has been to regard the security folks, connected to the process they represent, as "pains in the behind".
This particular morning there was a gentleman just ahead in the line who was holding things up. He had placed his items on the table but now wasn’t moving forward. This caught my attention and as I gazed at him I noticed he was trembling. I began to wonder if he was OK and was just considering moving in towards him to ask when he staggered backwards with two large steps, then fell, hard, striking his head on the table of the adjacent lane as he went down.
There was a sharp, collective intake of breath in a moment of nothingness as we all took this in. He lay on the ground, a small puddle of blood beginning to form under his head. I was certain he was dead. Then the whole picture came alive. Someone yelled, “Call 911!”. A woman standing behind me moved towards him. Security personnel jumped over their various tables and conveyors to assist. I observed it all, my hand over my mouth to muffle my silent scream of utter despair. Then a wave of relief moved through the room as we saw his eyes fluttering and his body moving ever so slightly.
While it would be easy to make this story about me and how I berated myself in those moments just after it happened for not moving towards him quickly enough, what I really want to tell you is what I noticed afterwards:
We became a family. The “game faces” that we put on when we entered the airport that morning (or perhaps when we left our homes?) got shocked right off of us and now were no longer necessary. Those of us who were not directly involved in caring for him continued through the airport process but the atmosphere was different now: we were more connected, we began speaking to each other, people looked at each other instead of through. I turned back to watch his rescue unfold and heard a security guard asking another gentleman if he was OK. He had witnessed the incident too and looked pale and a bit shaken. She reached out and placed her hand on top of his and as she patted it said, “I know, I know.” This moment of profound yet simple tenderness seared itself into my heart and has left me forever changed at how profoundly kind one person can be with another.
That morning an upsetting accident served to remind a handful of us that we are not separate from each other. There are roles that we occupy in any given moment: security, passenger, official, elderly, young, etc. But these are just roles, they are not our identities! What was so beautiful about this shocking incident was that it forced us to drop these roles for a moment so we could stand together as humans.
So I’m curious now. What if we could do that in absence of an accident, a tragedy, or some other notable event? What if we allowed ourselves, even just once each day, to put down our roles and really make contact with another? I invite you to join me in experimenting with this and to let me know what you notice.
As I sat at my departure gate sipping my tea, someone beside me was talking about the incident. I turned to this stranger, my brother in our human family, and asked if he knew how the story had unfolded. He smiled and said that the paramedics arrived, cared for the gentleman and eventually had him standing up and talking. My heart filled with gratitude for this happy ending.