Another joyful reunion

Published 10:33 pm Thursday, March 5, 2009

She runs the last hundred feet or so through the terminal, still a bit unsteady on her 3-year-old legs, her arms loaded with a coat and her little carry-on bag. Just when it looks as if she might stop and walk the rest of the way, she has a burst of energy that takes her through the door, straight to the older couple waiting in the lobby of Norfolk International Airport.

Grandma is the closest, but the little girl runs right past her and into the waiting arms of Grandpa, who gathers her up and engulfs her in kisses and hugs. Her parents have lagged behind, but they soon come through the doorway and join the reunion, pushing a stroller they had taken aboard their plane. Tired from running to meet her grandparents, the girl chooses to ride the rest of the way out of the airport.

As the family heads toward the baggage-claim area, a woman in her late 20s meanders in high heels into the waiting area, carrying balloons and a rose. Her gaze is focused on the far end of the terminal. The cheerful welcome messages on the silvery balloons provide a counterpoint to the dark, lacy ensemble she wears underneath a coat that isn’t long enough or heavy enough to provide much warmth on this cold late-winter night.

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Clear on her face is the expectation that her warmth will arrive with the next incoming flight.

Near midnight in this small airport, the only flights are incoming ones. Not every reunion is joyful, of course — for every family that comes back together, there are a dozen or more travelers who arrive to find no welcoming committee at all. But the teary farewells that have been Hollywood staples since Humphrey Bogart reluctantly saw Lauren Bacall to a waiting plane in Casablanca are nowhere to be found at this time of night.

It’s a slow night at the airport, so it’s a little startling when the loudspeakers blare a warning about watching out for your bags. Neither the happy family nor the expectant woman, however, seems to have noticed. Their joyful cries upon seeing the awaited travelers quickly turn private and intimate, despite the cavernous space surrounding them. Lingering only a few moments, they are soon off to take care of their plans.

A few minutes later, another flight arrives, and we strain to find our family members amidst the stream of disembarking passengers. “Do you see them? There they are!” A broad smile lights up my wife’s face, and her eyes dance with expectation.

Another joyful reunion.