When I was younger my dream job was to work in an airport. Not on the planes as a hostess, though that seemed like fun. I wanted to be on the ground. I wanted to be surrounded constantly by the raw emotion, the unbridled humanity that can only be expected in a place that reunites longing souls and brutally and indefinitely splits families. How can a business man on a quick work trip walk parallel to a young woman crying into a tear soaked hoodie because she has just said goodbye to everything she knows and loves? And yet, under the sterile lights of the Melbourne Tullamarine arrivals gate, humanity is encapsulated in a perfect microcosm of things inherently normal, mundane, corporate, against the defiant human emotions and connections that transcend time and our short, inexplicable existence.
Many late nights as a child I spent at these very gates, hanging off the germ-filled railings that now I would not dare touch without feeling for a bottle of sanitiser in my handbag. My brother and I would wait anxiously for our grandparents, or our uncle or our cousins to pass through the doors that to me at the age of eight, held the entire rest of the world neatly behind them. We would place bets on how many passengers would come through those doors before our very own visitors transpired out of thin air from behind that automated sliding portal and into our arms. At the time the other passengers meant nothing to me, symboled nothing other than whether I was winning or losing the game I was playing against my brother. Now, I see them differently. As one grow up, it becomes abundantly and horrifyingly clear how little significance one’s story has against so many others. Or rather, perhaps just how significant and extraordinary each and every story and each and every person is. And when each story is held in contingency with one another, in a single, enclosed building with tiled floors and bright lights, the power and the energy of life and love and all things great and the diversity of the human experience is weirdly at its most undeniable.
The days of waiting impatiently at the arrivals barrier with my siblings and my parents has well and truly ended, though harshly, without my noticing nor without notice. I fear that the days of family visitors reaching us all the way over here, in what, to them, is too much of a foreign land, are finished. When did all these wonderful things end? I feel cheated of a warning, a precursor, a by the way. “By the way Chiara, this is the last time you’ll all pick up your grandparents from the airport together, take it in.” Or “The next time you’ll be at the arrival gates Chiara, is when you collect your parents after your grandfather’s tragic death.” Or “the next suitcase you’ll be scraping across the rhythmic linoleum of an airport will be your own, as you leave your world behind to simply slip into a different, novel one.”
A newborn cries as the family whose language right now I wish with all my heart I could understand, flusters and buzzes around him, excitedly and lovingly cooing at the newest arrival not only at the gate but into their kinship. A couple reunites in an intimate embrace, as a bouquet of flowers gifted by one to the other becomes the last conceivable priority as it is passionately crumpled between a frenzy of back and arms and smiles and love. A shy, surroundings-conscious friend waits lawfully and patiently at the end of the barrier for their friend whose grin meets them exposing the years of friendship and laughter shared. Being human is the only single thing everyone in this room has in common, but in this instance it’s indisputable that it is the greatest, most important thing. That we are all here, alive and in love.