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Entire Lives

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Saturday, August 15th, my best friend Joan drove me to Baltimore Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport. I had a reservation to fly to Albuquerque to visit my son J, his wife L, and the darling-est grandson, Mr. Poop. I breezed through security without having to remove shoes, toiletries, or laptop, stopped at the board to check the flight, expecting to see “On Time” or “Delayed”, but instead read “Canceled.” Walked to the TSA desk and was told to proceed to the gate. The line to talk with an agent was Disneyesque and moving glacially.

No airline employee interacted with those of us waiting for information. I phoned J, told him the news. He said he’d see what he could find, called shortly after, and said Twitter was aflame with outraged travelers. No explanation. I heard people nearby mention the possibility of a terrorist threat. Eventually, J texted that there was a power outage or technical glitch at a tower near D.C.

I called Southwest’s toll-free number to hear the message that I could receive a call back in 82 minutes.

The adorable coed in front of me said to her mother, “My entire life is in that checked luggage.” I told her that her “entire life” was simply on hold because her luggage wasn’t in transit.

People were scrambling, on their phones, trying to find an airport with outgoing flights, and then talking (among their group) about securing rental cars to a particular city.

I heard someone say, “I don’t want to buy the plane, I only want to inquire about a charter.”

So many people, wanting their needs met.

And I thought of the millions of Iraqi and Afghanistan refugees, forcibly displaced by war, the horrifying legacy of U.S. foreign policy, entire families forced to leave their countries to find safe haven, men, women, children, many who were infants, toddlers. Women who’d just given birth or whose due date was the day that fleeing was necessary. The sick, the elderly. The horrifying legacy of U.S foreign policy.

I considered the estimated 9 million Syrian refugees who’ve left their homes since the Syrian civil war. Human beings who take nothing but their children’s hand and perhaps a small bag with water, an article of clothing, something meaningful, just one item. Maybe the address of a relative who’s left months or years prior—a name scribbled on a piece of paper. This is an “entire life.”

And there we stood, Saturday, August 15th, the privileged, with our phones, our tablets, our access, bitching about a canceled flight.

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Missy Beattie has written for National Public Radio and Nashville Life Magazine. She was an instructor of memoirs writing at Johns Hopkins’ Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in BaltimoreEmail: missybeat@gmail.com

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