Cindy Hoedel

Spirits take flight at airport arrival area

Airport reunions can be the sweetest.
Airport reunions can be the sweetest. File photo

Airports are my church. Inside their soaring, light-infused halls I find solace and joy.

I am nonreligious and full of faith — in humanity. I have been inside magnificent cathedrals, mosques and synagogues in several countries, and none for me is as hallowed by love and goodness as an airport arrival area.

On Tuesday evening, weighted by the previous week’s horrifying killings by and of police officers, I was extra thankful as I entered the sanctuary of Terminal C at Kansas City International Airport.

Outside the still-closed door at Gate 76, a young man who looked as if he was from the Indian subcontinent clutched a single red rose and a small foil balloon. A middle-aged woman in cutoff denim shorts commented that she has never been in an airplane. A tall black man in a cream-colored silk shirt stood against the back wall of the concourse, and a tiny Asian woman in thick, rimless glasses stood on tiptoes to see through the glass part of the partition wall into the secured gate area and out the terminal windows onto the runway. A multi-generational family spoke what sounded like an Eastern European language, and a woman in khaki slacks and a rose-printed hijab looked down at her phone.

We were strangers with two things in common: We are all members of the same human family, and we all had a loved one flying in from Chicago and points beyond on Frontier Airlines.

We took turns stepping up to and backing away from the glass to give others a view. When the airplane coasted to a stop next to the unfurled jet bridge, we smiled and nodded at one another, awash in gladness.

Then, after excruciating minutes that felt like hours until the passengers spilled out of the jet bridge and through the security door, time sped up and everything happened at once: the embracing, the backslapping and arm-punching, the baby passing, the hair ruffling, the picture-taking, the gift bestowing.

My heart was already lifted taking all of this in before my son, returning home on a break from college in Munich, came striding toward me with the same huge smile he wore as a 10-year-old, the first time he returned from flying alone to visit relatives in Germany.

Being the daughter of a flight attendant and a pilot, my love of air travel is predisposed. But the power of the arrival area to reaffirm the deep emotional bonds that make us human is separate and universal.

In 1975, I was mesmerized by a short film set to “Homeward Bound” by Simon and Garfunkel that aired on the first “Saturday Night Live” Christmas special. In 2003, director Richard Curtis shot the opening and closing scenes for “Love Actually” at Heathrow, capturing the same essential, soul-stirring experience, and in doing so cemented the film’s status as an instant holiday classic.

It’s become popular to grouse about the hassles of flying, but the enduring grace of airports as places where people of all imaginable cultures, political views and hues mingle peacefully, united by fundamental human experiences of parting and reuniting, is a tonic for troubled times.

Cindy Hoedel: 816-234-4304, @cindyhoedel