We were running late and found ourselves in a security line that stretched out the doors of the airport and onto the breezeway.
The cold weather has me wearing my hiking boots for warmth and protection from puddles instead of my flip flops. On Thanksgiving Day, as I struggled to pull the edge of my boot over my heel, I had a mini-flashback: The San Diego airport. I was so stressed out during the actual occurrence; I had forgotten until the moment when I was struggling with my boot. The memory brought tears to my eyes.
Early on Thanksgiving morning I was at the airport. I was volunteer escorting a mom and her three children through security and to the gate to board their flight to Florida. They were seeking asylum in the United States. We were running late and found ourselves in a security line that stretched out the doors of the airport and onto the breezeway.
I want to tell you this story because it’s so simple and so beautiful. I want to tell you about the security guard who noticed us and pulled us out of line after we had shuffled one step at a time for half an hour. He put us in the TSA pre-check line, effectively getting us to the front immediately. After checking our boarding passes, we were made to step aside and wait for someone to do the typical search process due to the nature of the immigration situation. Then we were dismissed as “going to miss their flight anyway, it takes off in five minutes” by one TSA agent. I want to tell you the mama bear rose up in me. I heard my voice rather loudly proclaim, “No! We’re not going to miss this flight—it boards in five minutes—it doesn’t take off in five minutes.”
The other agent gave me his attention. He was a tall, lanky man in his early sixties. He began the necessary phone call as he paged through the immigration papers. I saw kindness in his face; wisdom. Within minutes he halted a line of people shedding their shoes and garments near the conveyor belt, putting our bins ahead of theirs. I took the sleeping two-year old from the mom as she was put through the x-ray machine, while me and the other two kids were sent through the “other” archway thing. Our kind TSA agent joined by another worked to comb through the backpacks and perform all the necessary tests. Mouthwash and lotion were confiscated. The mother took the baby from me and I grabbed my boots from the bin and put them on. My left heel stuck out of my boot, but I was prepared to move on—the flight had been boarding for the past 25 minutes and we were not at the gate. And then, I felt something tugging on my boot. I looked down to see the little girl bent over, diligently trying to get my boot to behave and go over my heel.
She had never been on an airplane before in her life. Their journey from whatever terror they were escaping had led them to live in Brazil. Then Peru. Then to pass through several other South American countries before arriving in Tijuana, where they presented themselves to U.S. customs officials and asked for asylum. From that point they were detained for processing. For how long? I have no idea. And then ICE dropped them at a shelter in San Diego, where their family in the US made this flight arrangement for 6:15 am on Thanksgiving Day. And now I was running toward their gate carrying a diaper bag so heavy and jam-packed the straps were cutting through the flesh on my fingers. In my other hand I gripped their folder of immigration papers and the boarding passes for dear life. I could only hope the kids and mom were not far behind me. I was laser-focused. I ran. I needed to tell the agents the family spoke no English and would need gate assistance upon arrival in Miami for their connecting flight to Orlando. The 10-year old had picked up Spanish living in Peru. She and I communicated the most basic and pertinent information back and forth when necessary. We made it to the gate, nearly the last people in line. When I handed the boarding passes to the gate agent and announced I was an escort he blasted me. “Get out of the line! You need to get out of the line and stand over there.” He motioned to the area in front of the check-in desk.
I turned to the mom carrying the sleeping two-year old to hand her the precious folder. She drew me toward her face to plant a kiss on each cheek. She thanked me as I ducked under the straps. Then the gate agent softened and began to speak Spanish to her. I requested the assistance for them and he said he’d take care of everything. He was another older guy—proud of his language ability since he had to tell me, “I speak Spanish.” I didn’t have the heart to tell him she may not have understood. They disappeared into the jetway and I walked away in a daze. Should I cry? Did I have everything? I felt so much lighter after lugging either bags or sleeping babe for the past hour and a half.
As I left the airport, the sun was rising. I could see the steeples created by the sailboat masts parked in the bay. I drove home where I would find my warm bed and catch a few hours of sleep. When I arrived in my neighborhood, I spotted a rainbow cast in the clouds toward the west. Later, as Larry made cranberry sauce and sweet potatoes to bring to a friend’s house for Thanksgiving, the whole thing felt like a dream. Until it was time to leave and I put on my boots. The left boot blocked my heel from passage. I reached down to tug it and the flashback occurred. A child at my feet—helping me—help her. They were probably landing in Miami. I want to believe the same magic I’d witnessed at the San Diego airport went with them—the beauty of all humanity—when ordinary people, just “doing their jobs” do extraordinary things.
Yours on the journey,
JuliePosted on: December 1, 2019, by : JulieEthan