December 21, 2012

Watching and Waiting

I had not seen her in 289 days. My daughter had spent a year as a student missionary in Lesotho. We had chatted together every day that she had both electricity and an Internet connection at the same time, and occasionally the Internet speed allowed for seeing each other via Skype. We had laughed together, cried together. She had showed off her inventive sweet potato-coconut-fig pie that graced her Thanksgiving table away from home, and I had packed care packages to help send a little of home to her. Somehow, though, I didn’t feel these instances really counted for having seen her.

Now, at last, was the day of her return! She had sent an e-mail saying she had made her connections and would be home in 16 hours! I left for the Atlanta airport early and staked out the perfect spot behind the barriers to watch the passengers exiting the customs and immigration area.
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Crush after crush of passengers marked the arrival of various planes, and I watched the reuniting hugs of several of my waiting companions. The flight monitors indicated that my daughter’s flight was still on time, and my watch told me that her plane should be landing any minute. I was so excited! Every day that she had been gone I had looked at my cell phone background photo of another of her departures the previous summer to El Salvador to help in an orphanage clinic. Now my phone was ringing, and the ID indicated that it was a call from her! She had landed and was headed to immigration!

Another swirl of passengers soon emerged. Greetings in a dozen accents and languages surrounded me. Uniformed airport personnel answered passengers’ questions. Restless children fidgeted by parents’ sides or dartedunder the barriers to rush into a grandma’s or uncle’s arms. A couple of kids got hungry and went off to buy something to eat. Wheelchair attendants rushed past to meet other arriving flights. Minute after minute ticked by. What was taking so long?

The number of arriving passengers thinned out. Not in that group, either? A glance at my watch indicated that 45 minutes had passed! Wow!

A uniformed employee who apparently had quite a bit of experience in the setting parodied arrivals he had witnessed before. The fast-food kids returned with their goodies; older siblings pretended not to wish that they had gone to get some too.

Then in the middle of a particularly entertaining travel tale, my eye caught a change in pattern in the rush of people passing me in the hall. Someone stopped an arm’s length away. I glanced over and was shocked to discover that my daughter had arrived! I wanted to blame the new eyeglasses she was wearing, or maybe the Lesotho hat. How had I missed seeing her? How embarrassing!

I had been responsible and had planned ahead to be at the airport on time, even early! I was in the right place, on my feet, awake. No one could have accused me of becoming drowsy while waiting. I was informed; I knew what flight she was on and that it was on time. My wristwatch was working. Every sign indicated that her arrival was near. I had even talked to her and knew that she had landed. I was not picking up some visiting dignitary whom I had never met. I knew her face, her voice, her laugh. Still, I had missed her even while I thought I was watching and waiting.

I pray never to experience that feeling again. How easy it is to become distracted, wrapped up in the drama around me, and miss the whole purpose of my presence.

“Watch ye therefore: for ye know not when the master of the house cometh.” “And what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch.”*

* Mark 13:35, 37, KJV.

Miriam Taylor is an executive assistant at the General Conference?of Seventh-day Adventists. This article was published December 27, 2012.