Strangers in Airport Lounges

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I’ve been known to meet some interesting folks by accident. I sometimes share these encounters with my wife. She’ll respond “how do you get in these kinds of conversations with people you just met?”

I tell her I don’t know. It isn’t planned. It just happens. I’ll share one for an example.

A few years ago, I had a layover at some major airport. Maybe it was in Charlotte or Atlanta. I’m not sure. At any rate, I was sitting at the bar enjoying some casadias and a lager. There was a story of man (though that would be stretching the definition) who turned himself in after being on the run with a three year old girl he had abducted and sexually abused.

My disgust for this man and sorrow for this little girl led me to shake my fist at the television screen.

“You know, a little street justice is okay sometimes.”

This man sitting next to me, an older gentlemen, I estimate in his early sixties, replied in kind.

Quickly our conversation picked up on the horrors in the world and the crummy politics we have to endure. I could tell this man had a kind heart. I can’t recall the sequence of our topics but he inquired about my family, what I did for a living, where I was from, et cetera. Unfortunately, this story cannot do justice in describing our encounter.

I learned he didn’t have kids of his own despite being married for over 30 years. He told me he had a daughter who died shortly after birth. Her death was caused by breathing in embryonic fluid during birth. This apparently caused the little girl to develop pneumonia and she died in the hospital. Had she lived, she would have been older than me.

The dear old gentlemen fought back tears as he was telling me this story. Right there in an airport lounge, not caring at all that the place was crowded. He had me tearing up a bit.

If I remember correctly, he and his wife tried a few more times but without any luck. Do you know what this gentleman decided to do with his life? He adopted children and became benefactor to a dozen others. He kept mentioning children from South America. How he sent this one or that one through law school, business school, or medical school. At the time, he was sending a girl from Brazil to law school in America.

“South America? How did that happen?

“I do a lot of business down there.” He handed me his business card, which I still have to this day. His name is Michael but goes by Mike.

He is a vice president to a major helicopter manufacturer based out of Oregon. He sells commercial and military helicopters to governments all around the world. Over the years, many South American governments became his main clients. So naturally he spent a lot of time down there. One of the kids he helped educate now works for him. He seemed particularly proud of him.

He told me had his daughter not died, and he and his wife were unable to produce a child of their own, he may never have been led to take care of other children. The sting over the loss of daughter, the absence of his own precious flesh and bone allowed him the ability to embrace other children – children from South America – as his own, to care for them and invest in them. Who knows how much he spent. From what I gathered, I bet he doesn’t know either and probably could not care less.

He told me if I ever find myself in Oregon, to give him a call. This man meant it. I learned very quickly from our short encounter, this man meant everything he said.

He had to leave first, his flight ahead of mine. We shook hands and said goodbye. He told me he had not met many young men like me and enjoyed our conversation. I took that as great compliment coming from him and said thanks. However, I was thinking to myself, “I haven’t met any man like you.”

As he was leaving I turned to get one more glance of him. When he exited the lounge, I thought to myself, “Now there goes one heck of a man.”

You don’t forget people like that.

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6 thoughts on “Strangers in Airport Lounges

  1. I love meeting people in airports! That man sounds like quite an admirable person. He turned something very negative in his life into something positive by helping children who have no one. Loved story. Very moving.

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