That these huge spaces are so frequently written about is unsurprising. We are a transient people consumed with life and information. Towering buildings granted meaning by our passage yet requiring the sacrifice of hours, airports have come to represent so much of the pause time in our lives. They are a space not personal, not pre-scheduled or already occupied. Thus emptied of purpose save the passing through they grant us a moment to analyze and write, to listen to our thoughts and watch others likewise held motionless by their very pursuit of such. With news televisions, internet, cell service, pay phones, sports bars and large windows they provide plenty of inputs. They do not leave us isolated, but unable to act.
Yes, we restlessly patrol our Blackberries for urgent problems to resolve. And there are those of us who simply space out, earbuds in and mind in neutral. Others pace, restless legs patrolling wide corridors while one hand holds the phone pressed against the jaw, checking again on the project we’ve been preparing to leave for weeks, in case one last moment of nervousness can guarantee success. We cram our legs up into our seats, leaving nothing touching the floor, no limb to anchor us to this city we are about to depart as we confide in family members we have just left, or will soon see. And we drink, relaxing in darkened caves away from the ever-present fluorescents and their helpfully automated voices reminding us that the automated walkway is coming to an end, that the alert level is orange, that our belongings are for handling by us alone.
The airport is an odd space for us, once through the security check, cut off from those who came to wish us farewell but still here, not yet separated by time zone or ocean. It is a space no one wishes for interactions in, save perhaps that brief farewell or hello, which we prefer at curbside, stepping into a vehicle that can escort us from the lonely halls. We hope for a speedy passage through, minimal time in baggage claim, in ticketing, going through security, yet we arrive with hours to spare, ensuring those moments of contemplation at the gate.
This gift of mental peace and clarity, these unclaimed, unscheduled half hours are the true miracle of airports, of this giant network we have built. So it is a good sign then to see how much writing they produce, how much thought, how many compassionate phone calls checking in on loved ones.
Now if there were such moments of unclaimed quiet in the progress of our daily lives, what would we contemplate, what would be produced in those hours removed from the world yet enmeshed in its workings?