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Now Boarding: Why the Airport Is a Metaphor for Life

by Kevin Schroedter Jan 13, 2009
It’s possible to learn about life from something as simple as waiting at the airport.

How many times have I done this – 30, 40, or even 50 times?

It is simple, isn’t it? I wheel my bags to the airline ticket counter, show my ID to the agent, say goodbye to my friends and family, pass through security, find my gate, and away I go. Most of my international adventures have followed this same routine at the start.

But this simple trip to the airport often manifests many different thoughts and feelings.

There is amusing simplicity in sitting and watching your fellow travelers stroll by…

Sometimes, what I bring to the airport is more than just baggage filled with clothes, toiletries, and books. Sometimes, the baggage is a bounty of emotions that forces me to perform a gut check, especially if the distance to be traveled stretches across the Atlantic.

“I can do this,” I say to myself. “I can separate myself from the people and a place that I love in order to fly thousands of miles and write yet another chapter of my life.”

I look at the people at the boarding gate and wonder what other chapters are also being written. The airport provides the most interesting of backdrops for someone who enjoys imagining other people’s stories.

There is amusing simplicity in sitting and watching your fellow travelers stroll by, guessing what their backgrounds are, what their homes look like, and what they might be feeling as boarding time approaches.

The young mother carrying a baby in a shoulder sling might be anxious for her parents to finally meet their first grandchild. The scruffy-faced teenager sporting a Lands End backpack could be returning home after a week of intense final exams.

Very often, there is also the traveler with a heavy heart, sad because of separation from a loved one.

The airport brings all these people together, reminding us that we are not alone on the journey. The emotions I feel are felt by everyone, and the paths we cross, albeit at different times, are quite often the same.

Every airport has this special role, acting as a crossroads for all of us.

It can mark the transition from one stage of our lives to another. At the airport, we seem to give ourselves permission to reflect on our past and ponder our future, without the distractions of daily routines. Here, we have a temporary reprieve from work, school, and family.

For those of us inclined to do so, reflection often leads us to ask why we are about to get on a plane to travel hundreds or thousands of miles away. Leaving family and friends is often a test. We are creatures of habit, are we not?

We cling to the familiar – our comfy bed sheets, a favorite perfume on our significant other, or the ring tone we hear when our best friend calls.

Yet so much changes once we board the plane. New sights and sounds enter our world. We will make new friends; we will find a favorite new coffee shop; and there will be a new place to call home.

I’m at the airport and I know all of this from experience, but my stomach is still in knots; my insides clench, and I whisper, “Here we go.” Incredible experiences await: all I have to do is have faith in this first step, boarding the plane.

There they go. Passengers are starting to form a line at the gate. “Ladies and gentlemen, we’re now ready to start boarding British Airways Flight 208, non-stop service to London Heathrow.”

Here I go….

What are your thoughts on the metaphor of the airport? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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