I sat in the Denver airport on my way home from Atlanta, waiting to board my plane with all the other travelers. Most stared at their phones. A few had books. Some sipped Starbucks.
An ambulance escorted by police vehicles arrived and parked outside the concourse, lights flashing, a reminder that all was not well in the world. People looked up. Stared. We watched as a woman was taken by stretcher to the ambulance. Long minutes passed before she was whisked away to the hospital. The drama over, I turned to check the screens. Why aren't we boarding yet? It's past time. The line of people exiting the jetway answered my question. Our plane had only just arrived. I settled in for a longer wait.
It was then that a quiet scene in the corner caught my eye. I had seen the pair arrive earlier, noticed the matter-of-fact way the father conversed with his young son, telling him that although their final destination was Sacramento, they would first land in Portland. The boy took it all in, asking questions until he was satisfied that he understood.
Now the father knelt on the carpet, facing his son. The boy was 4 or 5, and I soon realized the rest of us were invisible. He was alone with his Dad on the open sea, watching for land.
"Captain Qwibbles, has the fog lifted? Can you see anything?"
"I'll check right away, sir."
At this the boy went to the window and peered out into the depths, scanning for threats, looking for land. (When his breath steamed up the glass, he licked away the fog. I took a sharp breath, wondering what Dad would do. He must have seen it, but he never broke out of character.)
"There's a giant octopus coming toward us!"
"Prepare the men for action." At this the boy turned away from the window and got very busy. His preparations were urgent. Pointing, lifting, moving large objects through the air. His father stayed calm and engaged. If he had a phone, I never saw it. If he was stressed traveling alone with a child, he never let on. Now and then he would check the monitor to see if it was their turn to board. But the boy seemed entirely oblivious to his real surroundings (and therefore not at all restless because of the long wait).
The young couple sitting beside me were equally enthralled by this most unusual theater. The man turned to me and remarked, "I doubt anyone has ever had this much fun in the airport before."
I saw no bargaining, no bribes, no placating or pleading with the child to behave. There was no impatience, no temper on display. No boredom. No bravado. No superior and knowing glances at other grown ups in the room to validate his behavior. No "look at what a good parent I am." Simply a man, secure in himself, empty handed and calm, engaged with the imaginary world of his son. The boy had no need of an audience and had no idea we were there. Dad was his whole world, and he had his whole dad.
This ought to be normal, but I'm afraid it's not. And we all noticed.
That Dad was an inspiration.
He reminded me of Kameel, though they shared neither race nor occupation. Both men were fully present. Fully available. Fully secure in themselves. Both saw the immense value in another person, looked them in the eye, and let them know. Kameel was boisterous and loud, while this nameless father was calm and quiet, with no desire to attract attention. I saw Kameel at work in a successful career. I saw the other man between here and there, doing an ordinary job for which he'll never be paid. But both were right where they belonged, making the very most of the moment. Doing the most important thing in the world.
And believe me, it was beautiful.