If you ever wonder about the emotional state of humanity, visit the airport baggage claim area to view tangible proof that human beings share deep emotions for one another. An observer needs only see, after the plane arrives, passengers at the gate greeted by friends, family, loved ones, all with emotional reunions. Nothing compares to the genuine joy of running into the arms of my family after being away so long.
I think on the definition of “reunion” just as I watch passengers begin to enter the baggage claim area.
“Is this seat taken?” asks an unfamiliar voice. An older couple stands before me, the gentleman holding a bouquet of flowers. They sit, quietly, holding hands. He taps his foot nervously. I casually introduce myself. The couple, Paul and Kathy, are very kind and very uncomfortable. I try to lighten the mood by telling them I am picking up my father, a rare treat for me, since he often leaves his car at the airport when he travels.
Time passes, and we talk as if we are old acquaintances.
Just then Kathy hides her face in Paul’s shoulder and begins to sob. Obviously my story sounded happier in my head than when I delivered it.
“We are here to pick up family too, our daughter,” says Paul. “At least we hope so.”
Over the next hour I “meet” their daughter, Maggie. Five years ago Maggie left Texas and traveled to the East Coast to attend university. After attending one semester, Maggie dropped out. Eventually Maggie stopped calling home. Paul and Kathy alerted authorities, filed a missing person’s report, only to discover that their daughter had been living on the streets for the past several years.
“We are Christians,” says Kathy. “So we made contact with our sister church in that city, sent them her picture, and asked for help.” And they received it. A parishioner at the church sent them a photograph of Maggie. Kathy immediately sent the parishioner a plane ticket with a simple note: “Get this to her.”
They waited three months. I imagine Kathy going through her mailbox each day, checking e-mail, checking “junk mail” in the e-mail box, picking up every phone call, just in case.
Today they are sitting at the airport by faith. Paul takes a piece of paper out of his shirt pocket, the e-mail that announces the time of Maggie’s arrival. It’s been folded, opened, folded again, soft to the touch from wear and possibly from tears.
Time passes, and we talk as if we are old acquaintances. Somehow sharing about Maggie has calmed their spirits. Paul says the experience has cost them several friends at church. The term “prodigal daughter” has been hurtful to them, even though Paul believes that all of us have been in that role at some point in our lives.
As the announcement of the arrival of both flights we are waiting for is made, Paul, Kathy, and I huddle in prayer. There in baggage claim A4, a prayer is offered for safety, grace, mercy, kindness, forgiveness, and peace.
Fifteen minutes later my father and I walk toward the airport exit. There they are: Paul and Kathy sitting in airport chairs, Maggie kneeling in front of them, weeping.
Heavenly Father, she is home. May this reunion, shaped by Your hands, be blessed.
Dixil Rodríguez, a university professor and hospital chaplain, lives in Texas.