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Miami International Airport Terminal H
MIAMI, Florida – As I sat sipping from a $7 Evian water bottle at Gate 5 in Terminal H beside my parents waiting for our flight from Miami to Atlanta, I looked up from my phone to see a herd of people galloping in our direction and screaming, “Run! Run!”
I looked to my mother, whose expression mirrored my own confusion and sudden fear.
Somehow, my feet had cemented themselves into the floor beneath me.
My survival mode kicked in instantaneously. As I pondered my next move, a million thoughts raced through my pulsating head: Is this it? Is this the inevitable moment of my demise?
Then my rational mind took over and I convinced myself it was merely a stampede of would-be fliers whose gate had spontaneously changed at the last second – until I noticed blue uniforms among those sprinting past while they frantically hollered the words I had dreaded in every middle school gym class: "Run! Run! Run!"
Oh, not a gate change then.
We quickly found ourselves running along with the crowd. I couldn't decide between the notion that ‘we’re gonna be OK’ and, well, insert every profane phrase provided by the English language.
We hustled through the airport, and out onto the runway, where couples held each other, children wept and everyone wondered what the hell was going on.
For a split second, I turned around to find my mother was missing. Then I spotted her kneeling on the asphalt, clutching a woman who was hyperventilating and sobbing uncontrollably.
It turned out the panicked woman was an elementary school principal from North Carolina who had been visiting her husband in Argentina. She had an understandable terrible fear of flying because her family died during the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
A strange phenomenon occurs in situations like these. Yes, people cry and fear for the well-being of their loved ones, but they also rise to the occasion in unfathomable ways.
Strangers wipe the tears of strangers and hold each other’s hands and pour water into each other's mouths and tell each other, "You're going to get through this. You're going to survive and you're going home to your family."
Whispers in the crowd now suggested a 'suspicious package' has been discovered, a bomb threat.
Since 9/11, and now with recent atrocities in Brussels, Belgium and other cities around the world, travelers constantly face an immense fear that the next act of terrorism might hit closer to home.
The ever-present, Darwinian fear of impending doom lurks within, yearning for moments like these to reveal its debilitating nature.
But moments like these also provide us with a choice.
We can – and I think you'll pardon the inherent cliché – choose to tune into our humanity and act out of our fullest compassion, in spite of a fearful gut reaction.
To paraphrase loosely Jon Stewart's monologue after the 9/11 attacks: destruction is easy. The true heroes are those who keep going and keep rebuilding.
Airport officials escorted us around the Miami International Airport building, to a different gate, where we waited for an "all clear" that eventually came, thankfully.
It was there that we were separated from the elementary school principal – whose name we never learned – and finally made our way back to a two-hour security check-in line.
Although the chances of the principal ever reading these words are slim, I want her to know I'm so sorry for the tragedy your family endured in 2001 and that we still live in a world in which such acts remain a possibility. I also hope and trust that you found your way home safely – now as an even stronger, more empowered woman who can emphasize the importance of peace and kindness in the education of her young students.
All I know – and I genuinely don't give a damn if this makes me sound naïve or overly-idealistic – is that love wins every time. It always will.
As I write this, I'm boarding my plane home to Atlanta – exhausted, sweaty, humbled, and grateful as all hell to be sleeping in a safe bed tonight.
Editor’s note: The terminal at Miami International Airport was evacuated late Monday afternoon after authorities found a piece of luggage abandoned. It proved a false alarm.
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