Sitting in the South Bend airport, I feel veritably assaulted by the wave of placelessness. Staring down the daunting prospect of four hours, I debate whether or not I should leave. Leaving an airport does feel somewhat untoward, like walking backwards through a door. Airports are less places than non-places.
I debate whether or not to stay. It seems silly to leave—what will I do anywhere else? The same activities I imagine: writing and reading. But, an hour later, at the cozy beer bar, pounding words out of my keyboard, I feel distinctly more placed, the activity I do is not simply treading water to fill time or fill a gap in activity, it’s something positive, rooted, grounded.
As I sit in this bar, typing, I add to the story of my life in this bar: of getting mac-n-cheese with Jenna, of venting with Meredith or Jimmy, of seeing priests and future boyfriends on dates, of birthdays and dark days, escapes from campus and live music. Now there is another story, another chapter: of writing with a chocolate beer while waiting for my plane. Airports are places where you’re not supposed to build these stories and these memories. They don’t seem to ask, as the friendly places that populate our cities, for us to make them part of our stories. What city bar or coffee shop does not laud its regulars? But, despite these points programs, airports don’t reward their frequent flyers.
But the South Bend airport, despite its trainsitional nature, is not of unfriendly mien. This small little launching pad holds a surprising number of memories. It’s a bit perverse to have a story happen in an airport, and yet it continues to unfold.
And this isn’t something, I don’t think, that can happen individually. It happens, rather, communally. Places that are true places are always places of a community, of shared stories and shared history. Brueggeman distinquishes between space and place. So much of our places have attenuated their rootedness and evaporated into spaces. But the South Bend airport has, perhaps, been thickened into place.
Friendship, as an adult, is far from straightforward. At least, for me. After a tightly localized university education, suddenly community spans continents, and stretches beyond their seas. Perhaps the natural place of such far-flung friendships is an airport.
How to make an airport a place? Give it back its history, the casual surprise of people living in community. By the United check-in desk, ringing the doorbell bootlessly, my friend walks by. To go to Chicago to fetch relatives in town for a funeral.
And then, we repeat a ritual of relationship so native to living fifteen minutes away on a small college campus: share our stories, the the disarming vulnerability foreign to adult catch-up phone calls or office drinks, stand a moment in sympathy and offer words that can’t possibly express everything you want to say. Hug one another, and find grace in being able to meet people where they are at.