I was at the airport the other day, waiting for my mother to arrive from Memphis, and I saw something beautiful – a young couple threw caution to the wind as they embraced and kissed in right in front of me. I am not a fan of PDAs (‘public displays of affection’), but I smiled as he celebrated her arrival to Boston. As I waited for the doors to open and a familiar face to appear, I thought about the joys of arrivals; there were smiles on the faces of the people waiting alongside me for loved ones, there was anticipation in their expressions and eagerness in their eyes. The airport arrival gate is typically a happy place.
I would imagine the situation was much different a few feet above me, on the upper level of the airport, at the departure gates. There people were saying their goodbyes as they spent their final moments together wiping away tears of sadness as separation loomed. Whether it is a business trip, a relocation or the end of a vacation, watching loved ones disappear behind the airport door is difficult; the embraces are just as passionate, but the emotions are quite different. The airport departure gate is seldom a happy place.
“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens….” Ecclesiastes 3:1
What I witnessed at the airport is a microcosm of life: we are perpetually cycling through arrivals and departures. There is the momentous arrival of birth and the momentous departure of physical death, and a great variety of the two interspersed between the two — there is the first day of school (departure) and the first day of summer vacation (arrival), wedding days (which could be either an arrival for the newlyweds or a departure for the parents), job interviews and retirements, graduations and reunions, baptisms and ‘going away’ parties. To master life is to master the myriad of arrivals and departures with grace and peace.
All this makes me wonder if we tend toward gravitating to one gate or the other: is there a predisposition in the human heart toward either anticipating arrivals or anticipating departures? If that is the case, whether it comes naturally to me or not (and honestly I fear it does not), I want my tendency to be that of standing ready for arrivals. I want every ‘hello’ to be whole-hearted and every ‘goodbye’ to have a twang of temporariness, as if I’m really saying, ‘we’ll see each other again”. I want to embrace the blessings of the moments we share without the realization that there will be moments we cannot share. I want to be the Wal-Mart greeter who says ‘welcome’ instead of the cashier who says ‘have a great rest of your day’.
In order to do that, I’m going to have to remember Jesus’ words recorded in John 14:3: “And if I go…will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” The Bible reiterates that greater and more joyous arrivals always come after departures and not that departures always follow arrivals. In other words, the story of Scripture ends
at the arrival gate with the embrace of the one who loves us so much He was willing to die for us. Perhaps it would be of benefit to those who are like-minded for me to conclude my thoughts with the words of a beloved hymn – God be with you until we meet again. I’ll be the one standing at the arrival gate behind the kids who are kissing.