Goodbyes at Airports

So, because the check-in desk for my next flight doesn’t open for another couple hours, I have A LOT of time to kill. I found a little café area in the international terminal, got a green tea latte, and managed to squeeze me and my carry-ons into one out of the two spots left in the place. I’m sitting on what looks like a bar stool, at a counter with a perfect view of the international checkpoint entrance. Lots of people are coming and going.

About five feet in front of my seat, a young couple just finished saying their goodbyes. The goodbyes went something like this: they would give each other a quick kiss, start to walk their separate ways, then one would pull the other in for a longer kiss or a longer embrace. I watched them repeat this process at least ten or even twenty times: touch, separate because they thought that maybe that one little kiss would be enough to last a while, then come back because it wasn’t, and it never could be. Both of them were crying. Heck, I was crying. At some unspoken cue, they gave the last kiss and walked their separate ways.

Here’s the thing about goodbyes at airports: there’s no one to tell you when to go. Sure, there’s a definite time when the airplane pulls away, and your chance of leaving is gone. But there are no alarms going off to say this is the last chance for kisses. There’s no airport employee whose job it is to tell you that it’s time for the last hug. That’s your job. You’re the one who has to make the decision whether or not to go. It’s your choice whether or not to miss that flight. You have to be the one to say, “I choose this journey over you.” And that’s hard. That’s so hard.

But for all the long hugs and repeated kisses that I’ve watched from this seat, I haven’t seen one person choose to miss the flight. Every time a group of people has come to this spot, one or more have walked through the international checkpoint, and one or more have made their way to the exit. Why is this? If goodbyes at airports are so hard to make, why do we make them? Is it because we don’t really love the people or the lives that we’re walking away from when we go through that security gate? Of course it isn’t. Yes, sometimes as you walk through that last checkpoint, you feel as if you’re betraying everyone and everything that you’re leaving behind. But you’re not. Not really.

Starting something new often requires leaving something else behind. It might be worth it. It might not, though it usually is, if you feel strongly enough about it. And the people who really love you will always understand.

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