I was standing in the airport at my gate in late December, with an hour or so before an evening departure. Pretty much everyone at our gate, including me, was occupied with their cellphone or maybe a book. Or food. In this fog of air travel, I began to hear the voice of a gentleman nearby, a guy about my age in his 60s with longish but neat hair, talking to a woman acquaintance.
They were casually leaning against the wall by the drinking fountains. As his voice came through to me, he was in mid-sentence, sounding sincere, saying that he “had to say something” before they parted ways to board different flights. I wasn’t trying to listen but could clearly hear him say things that sounded like other random airport conversations, but this would become more poetic.
He was saying that in the past few days he had enjoyed their long conversations; he had come to appreciate how she “showed up in the world”; he said he felt an “unfamiliar kind of excitement and happiness” in her presence, and that every conversation they had had felt like it was “meant to be continued.” At this point, his voice was beginning to crack a bit, but he stumbled ahead.
Maybe, he said, he had fallen in love with her, or he could fall in love with her. He couldn’t say which was which, but, he said, it felt big, and this was his “truth.” He could not go on without telling her this before they boarded separate flights. By this time I was having sympathetic nervous reactions that came close to matching the intense nervous emotions this guy was probably feeling. Even though I had slowly turned away to not intrude, my ears were now finely tuned to the words coming from this guy baring his soul, walking a high wire without a net. He had taken the plunge.
There was a moment of silence. I had become a shameless interloper to a tender unfolding, listening for the next word from either of them.
The woman spoke. She said she was blown away by his honesty, and glad that he had spoken up. She said that their conversations were something she needed and wanted to continue. She said she had thought to be more forthcoming, more spontaneous, but was too shy to say more earlier, but she wondered if he would like to sit down and talk. Words flowed from each of them at the same time: “Yes. Of course. Please. Thank you. OK.”
They stepped a few feet to a table in front of a Dairy Queen by our gate, totally oblivious to everyone, and began again to talk, backpacks on the floor, no coffee, no food, just the talk. No one else at the gate appeared to have any idea this was happening. As I turned to walk away I heard a few random last words, words like “grateful” and “yes,” but they were just beginning.
I moved away out of total awe and to take the lesson. A brave thing and an inspirational thing was done right in front of God and everybody, without notice. A human being went with his heart and something big, something important, and something real was allowed to happen as a result.
Warren Hanson is president of the Greater Minnesota Housing Fund and Minnesota Equity Fund.