Airports are funny spaces. They are almost like a microcosm of our world. Yes, there is still great inequality, with first-class lives and sardine-like seats. It reminds me of the line in Jerry McGuire: “First class seats used to mean a better seat. Now it means a better life.”) There is immense joy of the unions you see: parents and their children, loved ones and parents, families of soldiers, and others. And there is immense sadness of parting after sweet reunions. The tears and the hugs and the embraces, all out in the public for all to see, smile with, and share in the sadness. Ironically, these same places of anonymity allow for sharing in our deepest and most intimate emotions. Airports are funny spaces.
This morning we woke up at 4 to take my brother’s family to the airport, after a joyous week-long family reunion. So here we are at five AM in the Jacksonville, FL airport. Not too crowded yet. In front of us was an elderly African-American woman, anxiously watching her son (himself a man in his 40s or 50s) go through security. When he came out the other side and was walking down the corridor, I saw her wail in grief: “I love you son. I love you.” He paused to turn around, and through her tears she muttered: “I’ll be ok. Don’t worry about me son. I love you.”
I didn’t ask for her name, or her son’s. But I know the feeling. We too were saying farewell, to my brother and his family. Somehow we were partaking in the rhythm of life, union and separation, joy and grief. Together, parallel, not speaking, but partaking of the same emotions.
It’s almost a cliché that many educated Muslim folks (particularly of transnational/immigrant backgrounds) are walking encyclopedias of poetry. It really is true. My father (like many of his generation) does have a poem for every occasion. And as my brother and his family went through the airport security, my father said (in Persian):
“It is exactly as Shaykh Sa’di said 700 years ago watching a loved one leave on a caravan…
ای ساربان آهسته رو کآرام جانم میرود
وآن دل که با خود داشتم با دلستانم میرود
(O Caravan-leader, go slowly
for the one who brought calm to my heart
is leaving on your caravan.
The heart of mine
that used to keep me company
now departs with my beloved.)
Sa’di used to say it about a caravan, but it is the same feeling today seeing your loved ones leave on a plane.”
This is part of what I love about my father, his generation, and their way of seeing the world: that the best of the past continues to inform their present state, and their world is drenched in beauty and poetry. So here it is to poems of 750 years ago, recited today, in an early morning airport; here it is to hearts united, in presence and absence.
So here they were, an Iranian man and an African-American woman, probably both in their 70s, united in grief, brought together in a moment born in love.
Airports are funny places.
We grieve, we rejoice, we love in public.
We love out loud for a moment or two, and then we are gone, our loved ones are gone.
It reminds me of life itself.
Life is like this: we come, we rejoice, we mourn, we leave, others mourn us.
May it be that the journey itself be meaningful, be filled with love.
Let us be one of the ones who love and mourn, rejoice and say goodbye, rather than the ones that walk alone.
Airports are funny places.