To the woman with the tissues in Terminal 2: Thank you

Terminal 2 at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport

Terminal 2 at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport Glen Stubbe

I remember a lot about November 23, 2015.

I remember the blustery cold as it whistled through my picture window. I was working from my south Minneapolis home. It was the last work day before Thanksgiving. I remember the frantic Google chats that popped up on my internet browser. I remember the missed calls glowing on the face of my phone. I remember how my brother-in-law’s voice quivered when I finally called him back.

I remember calling my wife and telling her to come home. She was not my wife yet. It was before noon. I remember staring into Outlook and wondering how to tell my co-workers why I’d booked an emergency flight home to Boston and wouldn’t be around for a few days. I remember draping my arms around my dog and crying into his neck because he was the only comfort nearby. He lapped at my face like he knew.

I remember my wife coming home, bursting through the door and into me. I remember the look on our friend Zach’s face as he stood outside. He looked into my eyes without saying a word. I looked down to the floor, and he knew.

I remember how my wife collapsed on the floor of the bathroom when her mother told her that her father had died. Suddenly and 1,500 miles from us. I don’t remember the noise she made, but I remember how it felt. It felt like my heart had left my body. I remember wondering when life would be bearable again. I remember Zach driving us to the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport, though we could not speak to thank him.

Passing through airport security is impersonal and dehumanizing. On November 23, 2015, it was nearly a comfort. The absent ritual of pockets empty, shoes off, laptop out took us away from our shaken selves. As our belongings passed through the X-ray field, we felt a shred of our previous life maintaining.

On the other side, sitting at our gate in Terminal 2, the sadness returned. As the boarding zones were called, the reality of our flight took grip. When we arrived in Boston, her parents' home would be half empty. There was family to call. My wife left our position in line to find a corner to sob in. I joined her. Everything in the terminal blurred.

I don’t remember what the woman looked like or what she was wearing. If she spoke, I can’t remember what she said. But she must have seen my wife wiping her tears on the sleeves of her jacket. She must’ve looked at us and recognized the despair. She knew. Kindly, silently, compassionately, she approached us and put a small packet of tissues in my wife’s hand.

It was a simple, almost automatic gesture. The tissues had been opened. They did not last long. But in that instant, it was enough to reassure us that kindness would endure. That people would come into our lives, serve great meaning, and leave. In a moment when we felt bottomless, those 10 three-ply sheets were enough to stop the hole. At least temporarily. At least long enough to board the plane.