Have you ever stood at a platform of a railway station or an airport terminal?
There are harried people pulling their bags all around, checking the status of their flights or trains, perpetually scared that they might just miss it. And you grumble about how there are so many people, and how everyone is shoving and pushing, no excuse mes, no thank yous.
But there is something that you miss, easily so because not many pay much attention to it.
It’s the people walking next to these harried people, who come to drop their loved ones off. And you know them by the expressions on their face. If you notice closely, you’ll catch it: this grey area of emotions, a conflict of sadness, hope, sometimes happiness, and at other times fear of the oncoming departure of someone they love.
They are the ones who are here to say their goodbyes.
It is funny, the number of times we say goodbye in our lives, and yet we are never ready for when the next one comes. Coming, and going. Leaving and returning.
If you ever want to see what waiting for someone looks like, you will see it on faces of people at any airport terminal, lined up for gates to open, for their loved ones reaching out to them with open arms.
It is right there: with longing in their eyes, they stare at the spot where they expect the arrival of that one person they have thought about for so long, spoken to only over phone lines and words on screens, always praying for their well-being, always waiting.
And then they arrive, and you see the wait end: eyes crinkle, a teardrop falls silently, lips twist into a smile, as if this moment is all that they have been waiting for all their lives.
And the people who return?
Their feeling of wanting to wake up at home, or next to their loved ones, living through photographs and messages that they read and re-read only in anticipation of the moment that has finally arrived, that feeling ends.
Experiencing this is almost like you’ve been let in on a private moment; watching them show their true self, no masks, no barriers.
What is it about train stations and airports that does this?
This place where everyone is going somewhere or coming from somewhere, what is it that makes everyone’s masks come off even if it’s for a fraction of a minute? All around you, things are said: words that never see daylight are being uttered, feelings that only escape you in the dead of the night, thoughts people were too proud to admit once.
I have always believed train stations and airports to be like a no-man’s land of emotions.
It is where so many people, lovers, parents, friends, sons, daughters, acquaintances have allowed themselves to feel and say that what they probably don’t all their lives. Maybe it’s the dread of the separation; after all, what’s there to lose when you do not know when you are going to see the person next or where life will take the both of you, right?
Sometimes it is an outcome of everything you have felt in someone’s absence, the sheer amount of how much they have been on your mind when they were gone.
In that moment of reunion, there is no malice, no hard feelings, you don’t remember all the things gone bad. In that moment that might not even last longer than a few seconds, there is only a rush of relief mingled with happiness.
We live in times when we all have a very striking awareness that life is uncertain and unpredictable. And even when we know this, I always find it marvelous that we aren’t as nice or kind to each other as we should be. We don’t say the good things we feel for others. I am surprised at how people do not say things they should when they have the time, or the chance; comfortable with the thought that there is always more time.
That is until they come to drop off a loved one at a train station or an airport. And then everything changes.
Lovers who can’t seem to be able to part, people parting for good, friends who are admitting how much the other will be missed, sons telling their fathers how they have always cared for them even if they didn’t show it, husbands asking their wives to take care of themselves in their absence, mothers asking their sons to call them when they reach, daughters happy at escaping the city they longed to leave and yet a part of them crying for the piece of their soul they are leaving behind. All this and more.
There is no black or white, it’s all grey. No man’s land, like I said.
Each time I have visited the airport or the station, I have come back with pensive feelings, warmth or sadness. I come back with all the memories of all the reunions, goodbyes, and love stories that have played out at these two places where many of life’s transitions happen. But there is also love, and gratitude.
What was that quote from the movie Love Actually?
“Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport.”
Just as well. Because truth be told, no matter where you are going or where you are coming from, sometimes all that you want to know, and all that it takes to make us feel better about the lives we live, is the people waiting for us at the terminals and platforms.
Sometimes, all you should remember is that no matter who you become, and where you are, there will always be people waiting for you to come home, or staying with you till the exact last second before you are gone.