The memories come at such odd times, completely unrelated to anything I’m busy with at any given time. Some are old and faded, others as fresh and clear as if they had been my yesterday. I hold these snapshots of my life close to my heart as if by doing so I am protecting them, keeping them exactly as they are, like old photographs that cannot be edited, rarely shared. Perhaps it is because words fail me as I attempt to replay for you those voices and paint the picture in your mind of those faces as vividly as they are held in my soul. Perhaps it is because I fear that even if I share with you only the good and beautiful ones it will uncover the bad and ugly ones, too, as they are all mixed together, stored away in the same album of my past. Perhaps it is because they will provoke questions that I do not want to answer or judgments I cannot bear. Perhaps they are so precious to me that they are meant to be just for me. Or perhaps I’m simply being selfish.
It was 5 am and we were at the small Mexican airport before it was open for business. Friends had worked through the night to make the arrangements for me to return home. I remember the impatience I felt at how slowly the employees were working to receive those standing and waiting, oblivious to the fact that my life had been irrevocably altered only hours before. I can see so clearly the older gentleman who took his position at the ticket counter as he was putting on his red vest. The travel agent who had delivered me to the airport presented my documents to him and obtained my boarding pass. We were not friends as we had only met the day before, but I could tell she felt bad that she had to leave me alone. I stumbled through my thank yous for her help and numbly walked through security.
It was only a short walk to the gate where I would wait for several hours before departure. The waiting area was nice and attractive with beautiful potted plants scattered among the seats; I watched the same gentleman who wore the red vest walk to the gate and change into a blue vest in preparation for receiving boarding passes; I remember thinking that was funny even though it was impossible for me to smile or laugh. What strange things to remember. Most of the seats were empty as few had scheduled such early flights. It had only been a few short years that I had been given the opportunity to travel but I had quickly learned how to nap in-flight and in even the most uncomfortable of airport seating and I was desperate to sleep here. I wanted to close my eyes and not think or feel, but sleep would not come.
The shock of the news and the busy-ness of preparing to go home had kept the wave of grief from crashing over me. Until then. I sat alone with nothing but my memories and my body literally began to shake. I was alone and cold and heartbroken and guilty and afraid. My sorrow poured out with such vengeance it would not be quieted. Regret came hard with its accusations and I believed every word. I groaned and sobbed with every fiber of my being. There was no room for embarrassment or self-consciousness for it would not be stopped, this exposure of my pain in a Mexican airport.
They approached me ever so gently. They quietly took the seats next to me, tenderly reaching out hands of comfort before ever speaking. One walked away and returned with a blanket, hoping to stop the harsh rhythm of my tremors. The other stroked my back and waited with me, not knowing me or the reason for my pain. I don’t remember if they asked or I just needed to tell someone, but I remember the sound of my voice as the agony poured out. “My son is dead.” They held me and cried with me and stayed with me until it was time to board.
I don’t know what sparked this memory today. I don’t remember their names or their faces. I remember their hands. I remember that two complete strangers were willing to be uncomfortable so that they would be used by God that day, whether they were aware of Him or not. They were probably on vacation and this was not on the list of memories they planned to take home. But they noticed me and rather than ignore or offer a quick bottle of water and simplistic words of comfort that are really no comfort at all, they stopped and they stayed with me. They stepped into my world of grief and reminded me that God was with me. Not with their words for they said very little, but with their actions. With their love and their arms and their inability to remove my anguish, they sat with me.
The bible is clear on the existence of angels, and charges us to always be hospitable should we entertain them unaware. Were these angels that sat beside me? Perhaps. If angels do walk this earth with us in the form of humans, I strongly suspect this is exactly the kind of thing they are busy about doing. But I rather believe that these women were just two ordinary souls like you and I who believed that people matter. Women who understood that people matter above schedules and itineraries and appearances and personal comfort. Women who knew from experience that lives can be painful and messy and inconvenient and uncomfortable, but they matter enough to approach a stranger.
I want to live a life that is unafraid to step into another’s circle and stay with them for a while. To look upon the ugliness of their pain and suffering, even when it is out of my reach to affect it, and stay with them. To hold back my tongue from quick words as I cover them with a blanket of love. To notice them. To cry with them. I want to be willing to be uncomfortable in order to bring comfort. I want to be His love and His presence and His hands. Just like two “angels” in a Mexican airport.