Jenny Knaak: Heartfelt homecomings
Sunday in the Park
May 26, 2017
I spend a lot of time at the airport. I'm not traveling myself, mind you … just standing in the baggage claim with a little sign.
One of the functions of my job is to greet incoming performers when they land — I make sure they have all their people and luggage, and know where they're staying, and take them over to the car service which drives them from the airport to our magical snow-globe of a town.
I have noticed that when one stands in a public area with a clipboard, people automatically assume the clipboard holder will be full of helpful information.
"Where are the rental cars? Am I in the correct terminal? If my flight was re-routed, where will I find my luggage? Is there anything to eat here?" They ask.
And the screams and cheers hit rock-concert levels. I watched her start to panic behind her sunglasses.
And, although I don't work for the airport, or any company that has a desk in the airport, I have spent enough time there to actually know the answer to their questions … At least, most of the time. I help them when I can, and direct them to someone who can, when I can't.
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I have also found that many people see through the clipboard holder, much like people will often forget there is another human driving their taxi, and carry on with whatever crazy discussion they were having prior to getting into said car.
As the invisible person, I have witnessed all kinds of human behavior. The little kids, so exhausted they just lay down on the cold, hard, dirty floor and go to sleep.
The folks who over-served themselves in First Class, tottering and swaying as they are surprised by the movement and speed of the escalator. The sweethearts, separated for "obviously" too long, who cannot contain their love, or excitement, or tongues as they search for each other's tonsils at baggage claim.
(I'm probably just a little jealous here – I've been with my mate for 23 years and when we're separated for more than 48 hours, I'm greeted with a hug and peck on the cheek. Maybe a light, quick kiss if I'm lucky. The days of nervous excitement were literally last millennia.)
But the homecomings …They get me. I often have to explain to our out-of-state, and international, travelers why exactly there is a huge group of people in matching shirts, with balloons and banners and signs and video cameras (now just cell phones) who emit ear-piercing screams when their loved-one walks around the corner, or descends the escalator.
It is particularly nerve-wracking to me when I am greeting an especially high-profile performer. They sometimes request to be met by only their driver…And it is only after diligent negotiation and explanation of my many years of professional experience (and not autograph hunting) that I am allowed to greet them. And invariably there will be an LDS Missionary greeting party at the airport at the same time.
It only happened once…My chanteuse stepped on the right escalator just behind her assistant at the same time a Returning Elder stepped on the left escalator. And the screams and cheers hit rock-concert levels. I watched her start to panic behind her sunglasses. I watched her tense up and consider backing off the escalator…and then relax, slightly, when she realized the excitement was directed elsewhere.
They were only too happy to learn about the tradition of families, showing up en masse, to greet their modern-day missionaries after two years serving their church, often overseas.
But it's the other groups, waiting for their loved ones…They really touch me. Sometimes they have balloons — usually yellow. They rarely have signs. And they huddle in nervous anticipation. There is none of the rowdy jostling between siblings and cousins as the other groups. None of the sing-along's or practice greetings or silly dances the other groups start. This other type of greeting party waits quietly.
And when they see their loved one step onto the escalator (almost always in Terminal 2) they exhale. As if they have been afraid to fully breathe, to really believe, their solider is actually returning until they see him. Or her. And then the quiet tears roll. Down their collective faces. And mine. I can't help it. I have always been susceptible to other people's emotions.
And I can't help but identify with them, at least a little. My husband was in the Army. Full time for a while, before I knew him, and then in the National Guard when we met. We were almost married very quickly, early in our relationship. We were already engaged, but weren't planning on a wedding until the following year. But he received The Warning. Which meant: get your gear together, get your affairs in order and be ready for The Call.
Once we received The Call, we would have 48 hours before he deployed on a mission. And we both wanted to be married before he left — otherwise, I was a non-person in the eyes of the Army, and all communication about his well-being would be with his estranged mother. So we prepped as best we could — he packed his gear, and I made sure my white party dress was clean. The time came and passed — he received The Stand-Down. And we both breathed a sigh of relief.
I still get knots in my stomach remembering how that felt — and that was just anticipation for him departing. I truly can't imagine how it would feel to have him gone for nine to 12 months…Not knowing how he was, walking on pins and needles, afraid to answer the phone for fear of bad news, afraid to not answer the phone for fear of missing any news…
And so, when I see the palpable relief in the shape of teardrops on their faces, my faucets turn on, too. Because I can only imagine, I am grateful I have to imagine what they feel. And I think, any day is a good day for a homecoming, especially Sunday in the Park.
Jenny Knaak, guest columnist, is the daughter of Teri Orr, the customary author of "Sunday in The Park."