The Christmas Spirit in Gate B2

"Indianapolis #1" by Claire P. (_rockinfree) used under Creative CommonsKaren and I travel a significant distance for one of the two winter holidays each year. We’ve kept this pattern in some form or other since we’ve been married, as a way to make certain both ends of the family are allotted equivalent time. The issue that we encounter is that traveling in the winter is, well…interesting. Each year promises to be unpredictable…it could be a smooth travel experience (one year was eight hours flat, from the time we walked into the airport until the time we set our bags down on the floor of the guest room), or it could be an insanely frustrating experience, such as the time we sat in an airport terminal for seven hours waiting for a “ground stop” to be lifted.

This year we booked an early flight, keeping the entire departing trip scheduled around our daughter’s nap routine. Had everything run anything close to smoothly, we would have been putting her into the rental car just in time for her to snooze away the last leg of the journey. Instead, we encountered one of those travel days…

After waking up ridiculously early to catch our first flight, we had to wait for de-icing (hooray for living in New England). That was just enough of a delay to find out that the airport where we were connecting had issued a “ground stop” (a traveler’s tip…when you hear those words, you are hopelessly, hopelessly screwed). Eventually, that flight was cancelled. After being re-booked, we were still sitting in the origin airport when our daughter should have been napping, only to find out our re-booked flight was delayed. We were told we could still make our connector after arriving at a new connecting airport with 20 minutes to spare…except that a flight ahead of us apparently experienced an emergency and had to be landed before everyone else, which resulted in our having ten minutes to walk several gates away, take a shuttle, walk several more gates…we didn’t make it. We thus re-booked again, and instead of arriving at any sort of sane time, we arrived at midnight.

That, dear reader, would cause the most saintly among us to have a short temper.

During two of our many layovers, though, some cool things happened. Another family who was awaiting a delayed flight was traveling with three children, who began playing ball at the gate. Our daughter joined in, and had great fun. Even though she’s barely able to understand the concept of throwing a ball at this point, let alone the mechanics, she thoroughly enjoyed the experience of playing with the other children.

While waiting in the gate for our final flight of the day, two other children came up to introduce themselves to our daughter. They were much older than she, but there were no other children in the terminal, and they were looking for a playmate with which to pass the time. My wife got involved, as did a college student who was already waiting when we arrived, and soon there was a full-on game of duck-duck-goose in the middle of the gate. At first, people seemed uncomfortable with it. Slowly, though, a crew member who looked like he was finished for the day and flying as a passenger began smiling, Then a guy in a Marines t-shirt smiled. The smiles were contagious, and loosened everyone’s mood (we were far from the only delayed travelers that day). Even I was less grumpy afterward. There was innocence in that terminal again, a sense of merriment as we waited for yet another delayed flight, a pervasive sense that even the most frustrating of circumstances would be overcome by this season that we hold so dear.

Christmas was an odd experience this year…as we fall back into what was our normal family holiday rhythm after a chaotic year, there were a lot of things that were comfortingly normal, and others that were oddly out of place or accidentally overlooked. What seemed most profound about my Christmas week, though, was the feeling of watching my wife and daughter and a group of complete strangers disrupt the tense atmosphere of an airport terminal with the laughter and all-around noise of a children’s game. There was something pure about that, even holy, perhaps. Christmas truly began for me in that moment.

I hope that, whenever yours began, it has been blessed.

Photo Attribution: _rockinfree under Creative Commons

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