I am waiting for my three-hour, delayed flight, at the gate of a just arrived plane. I watch the passengers disembark. A flight attendant accompanies a small boy who can't be older than six years. The attendant passes him off to another attendant and says, "This is an unaccompanied minor and his mother is picking him up." His responsibility ends and he re-enters the jetway.
The little guy is wide eyed and bewildered. No one with open arms is waiting for him after his four hour flight.
The attendant asks him if he sees his mother and when he says no, she resorts to, "Do you see anyone you know out there?" She wants to help and follows with, "What color of hair does she have?"
He answers, "She has reddish hair."
"Can you see her?" the attendant asks again.
He nods his head no and I think I'm going to cry sooner than him.
"Keep looking and see if there is anyone you recognize."
His bewilderment seems to intensify.
I wonder what will happen if no one shows. He's so sweet, so vulnerable, I want to volunteer to take him home.
The attendant picks up the phone. "Hi, this is the airline calling to see if you are picking up your son. Oh. You are coming into the concourse now."
She's not the only one who's relieved.
The attendant turns to the little boy, "You're going to have to wait right here. I can't watch you because I have to board these passengers. Stay right here."
She can't watch him, but I can to make sure he's safe.
The recognition and relief on the boy's face, in his body, alerts me that Mom is near. She steps toward him and he wraps around her like he will never let go. He squeezes her so tight, his own face so tight, his eyes disappear.
I'm reminded that I wasn't a perfect Mom either. That sometimes I was late and sometimes my child must have sweated like this little guy waiting for his mom.
I like to think that I'm punctual, that I don't keep people waiting, but I tend to pack in too much, too tight, in too little time. I often fight my way out the door with less time than needed to reach a destination. It seems like I'm always five minutes late.
I remember my mom waiting at the airport, curbside, in the sun for a half hour, when a detour to see some seals ended in a California traffic jam and I didn't make it in time. I'm just a few minutes late for lunch with my husband cause I had to switch the laundry or respond to a time sensitive email. I think of my six minute drive to school and if I make all the lights, I can really make it in four and a half minutes; I've rushed too often; I've gambled with time. I excuse myself by calling it a "rush," but it's really self deception and hypocrisy.
I once read that being late was a form of selfishness; people who are late value their time more than others, and I see the truth in this. When I remind myself of this, I work harder to be more conscious of time.
Last night at the airport, seeing the disappointment and angst in the little guy waiting for Mom, has brought a new perspective to timeliness. The people who wait for me are rarely small children, but regardless of age, there will always be a tinge of disappointment when my inconsideration says, "My time is more important than yours."