In 2011, I had the exciting opportunity to work for the Canadian Army as a Post-Production Assistant in Ottawa. I was studying at uOttawa at the time, and was elated to get my first co-op job, and I thought it was super cool that my first job would be with National Defence in an office downtown. I told anyone who would listen that I would be working downtown (!) for the government (!) that summer.
So, when over reading week, I discovered I was in fact not working downtown, but in Nepean, I cried. I actually cried. It was brief, but there were tears. I calmed myself down, and decided to see this unexpected news as an opportunity instead of a public transit death sentence.
What I discovered was that public transit did indeed suck. It was only made worse by my motion sickness that kicked in any time I read anything. I spent the first few weeks of my commute focusing on not throwing up. A feat I’m proud of, given my commute was 1.5 hours, each way.
Soon after starting my role, one of my coworkers suggested he drop me off at the airport after work, so I could take a more direct bus downtown. I agreed to try it - desperate for a quicker way to get home to my roommates. I was 20 goddamnit, and I had beer to drink!
It turned out to be a regular practice for us - him dropping me off, me hanging around the arrivals section for the 97 bus to show up. This was when my love affair with airports started. I had travelled before, but when you’re focused on not missing a flight, you end up missing the very human spirit that is Arrivals.
As I would board the bus everyday, I would be joined by folks arriving to the city. Some clearly were coming home, while others, maps in hand, were newcomers. I loved sitting with them, observing them, and talking to them when I thought I might be able to help. They were sometimes accompanied by friends and family, eager to show off their incredible home.
As the summer wound down, I started going inside to the Arrivals section before catching my bus. I would hang out for a few minutes, and just soak up the pure joy. It was meditative for me, and while I didn’t understand it at the time, it was a form of self-care.
There’s a hardness that is lifted at airports. Emotions that would anywhere else feel uncomfortable feel beautiful. Watching the act of reuniting shows you a side of humanity that is often lost in our day-to-day. It shows vulnerability - people crying, smiling, opening their arms to one another, asking for help with their luggage. It shows compassion - seeing other onlookers smiling, and laughing, soaking up the joy. There was something so supremely human about it all. Like we had all suspended our disbelief for a moment to let ourselves be joyful despite it all. Despite the heaviness of life, the exhaustion of travel, and the uncertainty of what would happen next.
One of my favourite Arrivals moments was when a young woman walked through the doors, a 60L backpack in tow, and ran over to (who I assumed to be) her husband, and their dog. They cried, and hugged, and their dog barked. She bent down to hug her dog, and he licked her face. The thing that made this moment so special was what had happened before she arrived. Her husband had shown up, with the dog, to the Arrivals section about ten minutes earlier. As soon as he found his place, a security guard walked over and told him he had to leave the dog outside. I watched the guy explain that his wife had been away for months, and that the dog was her best friend. To my surprise, the security guard smiled and said he understood, and left them be.
The combination of not only the security guard showing compassion, but the husband taking a risk to bring the dog inside for a short few minutes of pure joy from someone he loved, filled my heart to the brim.
I often say going out into nature is the most cleansing thing I do for myself. Feeling totally alone, and at the mercy of something bigger than yourself, something almost spiritual, leaves me feeling clear-headed and grateful. Standing in the Arrivals section is akin to the feeling I get when walking along a forest floor.
That summer taught me a lot - but the lesson I still hold closest is to see every setback as an opportunity. Every unexpected twist as an adventure. And every mundane activity as an opportunity to observe something magical.