I'll Never Do This Again

by Jessie Gardner May 24, 2017

As I stood there squeezing my 2-year-old’s little hand, I felt tears coming. A wave of emotion hit me like a bucket of ice water. First, a few tears began to roll and before I knew it tears were raining down my cheeks. Happy tears, but tears nonetheless.

It all took me by surprise and got me wondering why.

See, my husband travels a lot. In any given month there are multiple “farewell” and “welcome hoooooome” moments. Typically, he’ll come home on a redeye, but every once in awhile his flight lands in broad daylight. Saturday was one of those days. The night before he arrived, I had remembered something he said to me the last time he got home after a brutally long trip, and it was this:

“You know the longest part of any trip?”

I was thinking, it has got to be the 18-hour flight you just took or maybe the wait for your head to hit the pillow after getting to the hotel, or finally finding the bathroom at the international airport? But no, here’s what he said:

“My ride home from the airport.”

I said, "Really?! The 40-minute drive home felt longer than an 18-hour flight?" He went on to explain it was because he was so excited to be home and be together that it truly felt like took days to get home from the airport. 

This got me thinking, how can I make this arrival experience truly special for him? Have his favorite coffee in hand, have his beloved Johnny Cash playing in the car along with his favorite homemade treat? Eh.. all okay options, but predictable. Then, I thought about the airport pick up routine and realized something: when did the art of picking someone up at the airport disappear?

At what point did people stop gathering to welcome their families, friends, visitors with hand-painted signs, bear hugs, joy, and a walk back to the car to head home together? I remember being a kid and traveling to Colorado. What made the flight bearable (I always had to sit by my older brother who was the king of all things annoying) was that I knew our entire family would be waiting outside the gate for us. My brother and I would race to see who could find them in the crowd and when we found them it was a firework show of a jumble of hugs, hellos, I love you’s, high-fives….. It was a connection. It was the anticipation of knowing someone was waiting for us and excited to see us.

I suppose it was after 9/11 that we all began to rely on the loading curb to snag our loved ones and rush off to our destination. Airport design and regulation went into hyper mode to optimize for the least amount of people that haven’t gone through security to be in the airport. Totally get it. 

But isn’t it interesting how, without knowing it, when we aren’t paying attention, our actions follow the societal norm that is created around us? I had to ask myself why did I always pick people up from the airport drive-by style? They are not hamburgers for goodness sake, they are human beings. I kept thinking back, wondering when did that habit happen? And the answer is I honestly couldn’t tell you, it just did. When we stop asking ourselves "why" we become moldable to the force of “that’s what everyone does” mentality and unconsciously adopt habits that may not align with us.

So, I decided we were going to do things differently this time. It was Friday night and my daughter and I whipped out the finger paints and started making a sign. We would arrive early, find parking and wait at the bottom of the massive escalator with our hand-painted sign, hugs and kisses ready to launch like cannon balls, and the opportunity to surprise my husband with a lost artform: the airport pickup.

It was in the moments before he arrived that the tears (I mentioned earlier) began. It blew me away how the anticipation of seeing him made me feel how much I had missed him. It made me feel how much I loved him. I had never felt this way, this intensely, when waiting in the car at the curb to pick him up. I would typically do lap after lap, circling until I would see him, have him jump in while the car was practically still moving, snag a quick kiss and off we'd go, into downtown traffic. Just like that, a moment that could be so rich, rewarding, and connecting is dulled and comes and goes in one breath.

So there we were, waiting. We watched person after person coming down the escalator, looking lost and overwhelmed. In that moment I wished we had made a sign for every person coming down that escalator.  I looked around and there was only one other couple waiting for their travelers and sitting in the only two chairs available. I noticed the small waiting area itself was purposefully designed to discourage the ritual of welcoming travelers and I get why people just don’t do it anymore. Plus, with Uber and an efficient pickup area, why would you spend the time to park, pay for parking, walk to the arrival area, stand in a small area, and wait even longer. Everything about the airport experience makes you opt for the curb instead of connection.  

But today was different. We were opting for connection, going against the grain no matter the circumstances and...IT WAS WORTH EVERY SINGLE SECOND.


After a good twenty minutes of waiting and pulling my emotions together, we saw him turn the corner and head down the escalator!!! We were ridiculous. We jumped and waved our hands in the air even though we were the only ones there. We yelled “Welcome hoooooome!” Our little one ran as fast as she could with the "Welcome Home Daddy" sign held high above her head to greet his first steps off the escalator. She was the cutest broken record I've ever heard squealing, “Daddy! Daddy! Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!”  His jaw dropped. I've never seen him so surprised and I’ve also never seen a human being race down an escalator so fast.

Hugs. Kisses. Laughs. Tears. Excitement. Enthusiasm. Embrace. Romance. Connection. And warmth. So much warmth. (I wondered in that moment if this is where the phrase “warm welcome” came from.) There were no phones, no distractions, just us, in the present moment. It was sacred and I'll never forget it. It was the most beautiful form of being a positive disruption in someone's day that I've ever experienced and I highly recommend it

From this moment on, I vow to never swoop someone up on the curb of an airport. I will choose the route that takes more time, energy, thought and patience. I will create space to honor the moment of their arrival. I will respect their journey and meet them with love, happiness, and a finger-painted sign… every time.

There are rituals that are worth keeping no matter how the tides change in the world. No matter how old we get, the distance of the journey, the way the airport is designed, or how much we are wired to opt for efficiency and get an Uber or stand at the curb … we all want to feel that someone is excited to see us, waiting for us, that there is a light at the end of the travel tunnel and ultimately, that we are loved.

So next time you have someone you love coming into town, break out your paints and a sharpie, be intentional about your time and plan on being a positive disruption in their day.

I can’t say for sure if our welcoming experience is what did it, but I can tell you this - since Saturday, I’ve felt so connected as a wife and family and I’m pretty sure this had something to do with it.

So here's to kicking the curbside pickup to the curb and choosing to make art out of the rare delicacy that is the airport pick up! Let us remember the small but profound rituals that connect us to each other.

Do you remember getting picked up or picking someone up at the airport or am I the only one that thought it was the best thing to look forward to? I would love to hear from you! Email me jessie@heysoul.com


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Jessie Gardner
Jessie Gardner