Saying goodbye to loved ones who live halfway around the world from you is not easy. In fact, it’s incredibly painful. On one hand, you’re full from the memories you created and the love you shared, but on the other hand you’re eager to get back into your own routine again. But when you don’t know when you’ll see those people again, and when it takes about 24 hours to get to them via one long 11-hour flight, the grief can almost be too much to bear. And it can make a person feel just how far away they actually are and that sucks. The loneliness sucks.
I found myself feeling all of that and more yesterday, as my parents left for America after a five-week visit. I’m still struggling a bit today, but only because there’s no one here to help me do the dishes (they were so fast at doing those dishes!).
But the time had come to an end so we loaded up the car with their bags and were on our way. Trust me, I drove as slowly as I could tempting them with “one last toe dip in the ocean?” or “just a quick touch of the golden sand?” but they were satisfied.
My son loves the airport with the ginormous eagles, Gollum, and Smaug sculptures provided by Weta workshop. Walking to their gate, my boy was racing ahead of us shouting excitedly at everything in his path, and I was dragging my feet as I felt the tears wet my eyes.
Not wanting to linger with the goodbye too much, we hugged; knowing everything we wanted to say to one another had been said at the house.We watched them go through security easily, with no line, all very laid back with smiles mirroring the joy that was gained from the visit.
A very active toddler, my boy was wiggling about in my arms and is much too big for me to carry around. But in order to keep him from hopping on the plane with them, I chose to hold him. He wiggled and spoke in his soft, chipmunk voice, “goodbye grandma and grandpa”, waved one last time and we began to walk away from gate eleven.
With heaviness in my heart at the thought of missing them and the physical heaviness in my arms with this big boy, I stepped off to the side of the hall to compose myself. I set him on a chair behind glass that separated us from the departure lounge but still allows you to see the parked planes. As he rattled off the letters written on the side of the airplane, I spotted a man sitting a few seats over, in the same area as us.
It was Joe. I was sure of it.
Reddish-blond hair, goatee, pale skin, deep-set eyes, glasses… Could it be that I’ve found Joe Wellington at the airport?
Trying to keep one eye on my boy and one on the possible-Joe, my parents then came around the other side of the glass from their departure lounge and gave us one last wave with air kisses. A lovely gesture, I waved to them again, but glanced back at possible-Joe. It had to be him. I looked back at my parents, still waving and still blowing kisses. Preoccupied, I could not stop silently rehearsing what to say to this possible-Joe. Back and forth, I looked to my parents, then to my boy, then to possible-Joe.
I had to ask if he was my old friend. I couldn’t let the opportunity pass me by.
I envisioned what I would do if it turned out to be him: I would probably yell at my parents and pound on the glass, “I found him! It’s him! It’s Joe Wellington!” and maybe I’d get a chance to ask if his surname is really ‘Wellington’ before security would haul me away.
We waved our final goodbye to my parents as I scooped my heavy boy into my arms. My eyes were completely dry at this point as I was focused on one thing only: I may have possibly found Joe Wellington.
Shifting my son’s weight to my left hip so I could speak with possible-Joe (apparently I think more clearly from my right hip?), I leaned toward him slightly as we were about to turn the corner...
“Excuse me, does your name happen to be Joe?”
Softly but with eye contact, he replied, “No.”
“Ok then, thank you. You looked familiar.”
“No worries,” he said unaffected.
My boy and I slipped around the corner and walked slowly back to our car, the reality of why we were at the airport in the first place hitting us hard again. Our vacation time with grandma and grandpa had come to an end. Driving away, I thought about my friend Joe Wellington, out there somewhere, and how funny it would have been had that possible-Joe been actual-Joe at a time like this.
As we watched grandma and grandpa’s plane take off from a nearby park, the tears returned to my eyes. I laughed at how distracted I was at the airport, how overwhelmed with emotion I had been earlier in the day but how not one tear fell from my eye at the gate.
So my search for Joe Wellington continues. And in the meantime, thanks for distracting me enough that the goodbye wasn’t as sad as it could have been. I managed to hold off crying until getting to the car.
Maybe I’m not supposed to find Joe Wellington right now… but maybe I’m just supposed to keep looking.