Schiphol is a dynamic place where people meet. We wend our way into one another’s lives with a question or a story. An encounter of two lives. Sometimes we forget that, behind the façade of a uniform, there exists a human being. Pretty often, passengers approach us in an emotional state – in anger, irritation, and often sadness.
A meeting of that kind does not leave me unmoved. I also experience these things and recognise painful situations from my own life or those of my loved ones. Even though my colleagues and I always maintain a professional distance, deep inside another story is playing out.
The man looks wretched. Frail and miserable. He was sick in the toilet, he tells me. He stands quietly at the desk with an empty look in his eyes and he’s trembling badly. He is on his way to Beirut but missed the flight to Paris. His father and brother were killed in a car accident and he is the only family member who can bury them.
The family has been waiting for him for days and the pressure has been too great. It is not clear whether their death is due to the unrest in the Middle East, but it is a double funeral nevertheless. To make matters worse, all flights to Paris are full because of strikes there. I try to make a stand-by reservation. I perform a few emergency measures and find a connection so he will make it to Beirut on time.
When I tell him this, he grabs my hands firmly and weeps. The tension is palpable. He says he is lost for words and, frankly, I am also speechless. His hands tremble in mine.
He walks out of my life again, leaving a weight of emotion behind. The next customer is at my desk. Quickly, I set aside all the emotion and immerse myself in the next story. Later on, I can see that the man has departed. What will have happened there in Beirut? I expect it was a particularly emotional time. And I will not get an answer to my question because I will probably never see him again.