Is it someone important or just family?

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By David Whitlock


“Is someone important arriving here, or are people just waiting for family?”

Before I could answer the man, the lady standing next to me in the airport terminal said in a voice loud enough for everyone around us to hear, “Family IS important!”
I stepped back, not wanting to get caught in the crossfire of a potential verbal volley, but then the questioner submissively lowered his head and silently trudged toward the baggage claim. The lady pulled the front of her coat closer together while simultaneously raising her chin in a gesture of triumphal indignation.
I felt a tinge of sympathy for the guy because I too have asked the wrong question and been embarrassed by what I said. But I knew that lady had him dead to rights.
In a matter of moments both would disappear in the pre-Christmas airport crowd because my eyes were riveted toward one person: my daughter.
Most of us have at least momentarily lapsed into an all too casual familiarity with the wonder of our family. Why shouldn’t we respond to their arrival like they are celebrities? Who could be more significant than family?
As I escorted my celebrity to the baggage claim, I couldn’t help but think about the return trip when I would be checking the departure flights and not the arrivals. The thought hung over my happy moment like a black cloud waiting in the distance.
Because family is important, it can bring us unspeakable joy as well as unbearable pain. Some set the family dinner table during the holidays dreading another visit from the one who always seems to find a way to ruin it for everyone else. Others are staring at a mate they no longer know, while some are wondering if that child will ever get it together, and others would be elated if the kid would simply come home. And then others, their insides torn by an aching absence, can do nothing but stare at the place where he or she used to sit.
If we dwell on it, we are likely to limp into the New Year in a melancholic mood that invites more somber thoughts into our home than we have emotional rooms to accommodate.
How do we keep the possibility of sorrow from dominating our future?
“I’ve learned to lock the door behind me and move on,” a lady I admire told me the other day when I asked her the secret of her refreshingly positive attitude. Now in her late 80s, she relishes the good life she’s lived, but I know she’s also endured plenty of twists and turns, bumps and bruises; life has not always been easy for her. Her only child was tragically killed in a car accident years ago, and now her husband is no longer able to take care of himself. Sometimes he is aware; most of the time he is not. He frequently stares blankly at me when she is not there to help him remember who I am.
She looks up at me from her chair beside her husband’s bed. And as always, her smile is soft and gentle, and her eyes tingle with the look of someone who has just received an unexpected gift.
“When we left our winter home in Florida for the last time,” she tells me as she reminisces of former days, “I knew the best thing to do was lock the doors behind me and look for new ones to open, and take each new room as the gift it is.”
Not a bad way to face each day of the New Year or any day of any year.
Glancing back at her as I leave her husband’s room, she remains in her seat, patiently keeping vigil at his side, and I can almost hear the man back at the airport, “Is there someone important you’re waiting on, or is it just family?”
I have a feeling she would say, “Both.”