An Airport Encounter With Grace

by Lisa McKay on July 4, 2014

Folks, I’m a bit in survival mode here at the moment. I’ve been without a car all week. We have an uncharacteristically grumpy, teething baby. We have a feverish two year old who only wants Mama… all the time. We have a Daddy who is leaving on Sunday for a week. And we have two very tired parents, because what we don’t have is nearly enough sleep.

Yesterday, however, I decided that when people here ask me how I am, I’m going to try to avoid giving them the shell-shocked stare of someone under siege and then launching straight into a disjointed account of my biggest problem of the moment. That goes for this blog, too. So this month I’m not going to write a post exploring how to cope with epic toddler tantrums (although if you’d like to see me write on that at some stage, let me know). Instead, I’m going to post something more light-hearted that I wrote four years ago. It’s about grace that I experienced in – of all places – an airport.

Image credit: FreeDigitalPhotos.net (artur84)

Image credit: FreeDigitalPhotos.net (artur84)

Until this morning I had thought that perhaps my capacity to invent new and stupid things to do in airports had finally been exhausted. After all, it’s been almost two years since I’ve done something dumb on an epic scale.

Given my track record, two years is a pretty long time to go without a major self-inflicted airport disaster. In two years I have not left my wallet at home and gone to Colorado without any money or credit cards. I have not neglected to get a visa for Czech Republic and been stranded in Germany. I have not sat, content, at the wrong gate in Chicago airport until a mere twenty-seven minutes before my flight to London left from an entirely different terminal. I have not shown up at the airport for a flight to Washington only to be informed that I was supposed to be on that flight all right, just a week earlier. I have not misread a flight itinerary for a trip to Ghana as leaving on Tuesday, not to realize until Monday at 9am that it actually left on Monday at 4pm. I have not lost my bank card and then had to hastily borrow a thousand dollars in cash from church friends before a Sunday departure for two weeks in Kenya. I have not illegally entered home country number one as a tourist on the passport of home country number two after realizing, on the day of departure, the implications of the fact that my passport for home country number one had expired.

And, in a particular triumph, I have not been rude to any incompetent immigration officials, in any country.

In other words, I’ve been good these past two years. Really, really, good.

So good, I thought that maybe these days of tragi-comedy airport disasters were over. I truly hoped so. Because, contrary to what some of my nearest and dearest may believe, I don’t do these sorts of things on purpose. These sorts of situations are in no way fun while they’re unfolding. They make my palms sweat, my heart race, and my general stress levels spike (which, given that most of them have occurred during my travels as a stress management trainer, is a particularly aggravating irony). They are a serious assault on my image of myself as smart, competent, organized, and independent.

I am not quite sure why, but a disproportionate number of these incidents seem to involve airports. And so it was this morning.

This morning I got to Grand Rapids airport in Michigan an absurdly safe two hours early for my domestic flight. I spotted my gate number – B1, found a nice chair in the sun, rejoiced over the free wireless, and paid no attention to the surrounding chaos until I heard the words “final boarding opportunity” and “Chicago” right after one another.

I slammed the laptop shut and jumped up, wondering how it had gotten so late, only to turn around and see that between me and gate B1 stood… security screening.

Security screening, which I had completely forgotten I had not yet passed through. Which, in fact, I had completely forgotten even existed.

And there was a very long line of people stretching away from it down the terminal, past where I stood.

So I want to say a very sincere thank you to the woman at the head of the line who let me go in front of her when I showed up panicked and begging. And to the half a dozen people behind her who came to my defense and said it was alright for me to totally disregard my rightful duty to the line, “they didn’t mind at all”, when the security people accosted me with a belligerant “ma’am” and demanded to know if I had waited my turn.

Not only were these people in line kind, they were nice about it too. They smiled at me, which I totally did not deserve.

It was, in a pure form, grace.

Hours later it all still leaves me drenched in shame and shaky gratitude and determined to treat gently those who cross my path very flustered after just having done something unbelievably silly. Perhaps even to treat gently those who are doing something unbelievably silly but aren’t the least bit flustered or regretful.

And to smile at them.

Have you experienced grace from strangers lately? Do share the tale…

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About Lisa McKay

Lisa McKay is a psychologist and the award-winning author of the memoir Love At The Speed Of Email, the novel My Hands Came Away Red, and several books on long distance relationships. She lives in Laos with her husband and their two sons.
  • Elizabeth Trotter

    LOL Lisa, I love your airport stories!! Never stop sharing them! I especially loved the long paragraph with all the things you DIDN’T do in 2 years — things I’m assuming you had, at some point, done? Again, LOL!

  • Liz

    In all my travels, especially those in Eastern Europe and South Asia I have received so much help, great kindnesses, and an abundance of grace from people I didn’t know and would probably not see again. Difficult situations have been resolved because strangers have been willing to alter them. I thank God for them all

  • Richelle Wright

    Unexpected grace always floors me… and one of my favorite stories – I’d traveled home for baby #8’s birth. Due to a couple of health worries and no preemie facilities in our country – it was the consensus that I’d be better off in the States wishing I was in Africa than in Africa needing to be in the States. So at 7 months preggo and with three kids (2 preschoolers and my 11 year old I was home schooling), we flew to Michigan leaving hubby and the other four in Niger. 3.5 months later, I was set to return – same scenario, plus one itty, bitty baby, 2 feverishly sick (and highly doped on tylenol so I could even get on the plane) preschoolers and 1 hormonal tween who couldn’t wait to see her daddy… Somewhere… in airport security craziness… my wallet never made it back into my purse and as we hit cruising altitude I realized I was traveling internationally without any cash, any credit cards, any phone numbers to call in Paris if we didn’t manage to make the two hour – very tight for de Gaulle and four kids connection… and I started praying.

    We landed in Paris. I waited for everyone to leave the plane. The stewardesses (who’d been charmed by that hormonal American tween speaking beautiful French) piled leftover croissants and 2 large water bottles in a carry-on. I didn’t even ask. As we left the plane, a young man in an Air France uniform asked me if I was the lady traveling with all the kids… and then proceeded to escort me through back hallways, never leaving the “secure” section, to my gate and then volunteered to sit with our luggage while I took the kids to the bathroom. And then a lady passenger I’d never met before, but who was traveling with me, was the mother of an expat friend of mine and had been warned to look for me in case I was on her flight, helped me get the whole gang onto the flight, settled into seats and on the way to our destination.

    We landed in Niamey. Some guy there with the Peace Corps helped me get kids and carry on and diaper bag down the stairs, onto and off the bus transporting us across the tarmac to the terminal and then held passports for me while I bounced grumpy baby in one arm and filled out all those immigration cards with the other hand. Immigration officials looked the other way when I no longer had the doctor’s notice waiving the yellow fever vaccination for my one who’d turned two while back in the States (it cost $3 in Niger… $120 in Michigan… so I wanted to wait), and then my friend and househelper showed up back, behind security (they wouldn’t let hubby in, but did let her) to help me with the kids the rest of the way out to the parking lot where the rest of the fam was waiting to meet their sister…

    That trip was so impossibly hard… and so dripping with God’s grace gifted by and through strangers… I love what Liz says below: “difficult situations have been resolved because strangers have been willing to alter them.”

    • Elizabeth Trotter

      I read this with tears filling my eyes. So beautiful and amazing and grace-ful.

  • Hahahaha… I did that EXACT same thing twice (!) when I was early for my flight but I got lost in surfing the web on my laptop in the club lounge and when I went out to go to the gate, I realized I hadn’t crossed security yet… i also did this a second time (in the same trip!!) where I was literally at the gate (well, I thought I was) and I kept looking up while listening to music on my earbuds and surfing the web, and kept looking up at the gate to check and kept wondering why they were not boarding. And then I just suddenly had a moments panic where I thought suddenly ‘maybe I am at the wrong gate’ and I started to go down the hall and realized that I had been at the wrong gate the whole time and because I had had my earbuds in, I hadn’t heard the final boarding. So I ran with my laptop still open and to the correct gate and they said “we knew you must be somewhere in here ‘cos you’d been checked into the airport for 5 hrs” and I boarded right before they closed the gate. Crazy. Haha. And I’d been there early!!! It all worked out but boy did I have a moment of panic!

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