I spent the night in an airport for the first time when I flew from Guayaquil, Ecuador to Arequipa, Peru. I had 7 hours to kill in Lima and after using my 10 minutes of free Wi-Fi on both my phone and laptop, I was running out of things to do. At around 12:45AM after checking in my backpack, I sat down among the many other zombie-like travelers strewn across the floor and waited for 1:30AM to roll around, as it was the earliest time I was allowed to pass through security.
As I sat directly in front of the entrance to the Departures terminal, I couldn’t stop myself from watching loved ones saying their goodbyes.
I watched a couple’s tearful goodbye as the boyfriend walked away toward the door to security and the girlfriend stayed behind the line divider that to them probably seemed impenetrable.
He disappeared behind the door for a second, then reappeared looking for her as she walked away. I almost tried to get her attention, but she turned around before I had a chance to. They mouthed a few words to each other, and then they both turned and disappeared in opposite directions.
I watched a little girl clutching her father’s neck as she cried, when saying goodbye to whom I can only assume were her grandparents.
Her two brothers and mother were also swallowing away tears and behind that impenetrable line divider, the grandparents were wiping tears from their eyes. They lingered for a few minutes after their family retreated into security, probably hoping to catch one last glimpse of them.
I swallowed the invisible lump in my throat and fought the urge to tear up as I watched this happen over and over. Friends kissed each other on the cheek, laughing about the fun time they spent together and turning to look back every few steps as they walked away into the abyss of the Departures terminal; protective-looking fathers pushed their daughters toward their futures; people young and old, held each other tightly before letting go for what seemed like it would be eternity. There were some smiles; there were a lot of tears.
It was a weird feeling to watch this as if I was watching a movie. Actually, it reminded me of the first scene in Love, Actually, in which Hugh Grant’s character explains how he likes to see all the happiness and love at the Arrivals terminal. Every time I land in a new place, I zigzag my way through a sea of hugs and kisses in the Arrivals terminal before taking my first steps into unchartered territory. Even though I’m alone, I still smile to myself as I’m surrounded by so much love.
As I spent the night in Lima watching these interactions, I realized I was watching an innate and difficult part of life happen for these strangers right before my eyes. It’s a beautiful and kind of fascinating thing to have the ability to love someone so much that saying goodbye generates physical feelings of pain and tears.
It’s also impossible to describe that weak-knee, hand-trembling feeling when reunited with someone after spending time miles apart.
Arrivals and Departures. It’s the never-ending cycle of our lives; especially mine these days. Spending my nights in and out of hostels, I make new friends, experience wonderful things with them, and eventually have to move on and say goodbye. Some goodbyes are harder than others. I’m willing to bet that not one of the people I watched at the airport in Lima would have regrets about the experiences they had before having to say goodbye to their loved ones.
The first “hellos” are worth the final “goodbyes”, no matter how sad they are. I’m not sure if I would change this aspect of travel if I had to.
The many “hellos” I’ve said are worth the handful of “goodbyes” that have tugged at my heartstrings and made me wish I could freeze time and never have to say goodbye. Sitting at the airport, I didn’t need to understand what those people were saying to each other. It’s easy to see how love can cross borders and countries and be translated all over the world.