Over lunch this week, several staff and I hoped to answer an important life question: Why are TSA agents in airports often rude and tough with travelers? We each recalled difficult moments involving bitter, frustrated, and miserable TSA workers while trying to wade our way through airport security. Why must they be so rude, and become frustrated so quickly with travelers when the process for surviving the security queue is different in every airport? Why do TSA workers expect all travelers to be well versed in the process? We each recalled security officers publicly humiliating strangers because they didn’t proceed through the process fluently enough – in some cases even yelling at them while highlighting their baubles and clumsiness for the gathered crowd to hear. Proceeding through the airport to get to the flight gate is not a pleasurable experience. It’s often full of anxiety, frustration, confusion, and even fear.
Bob Goff writes a series of true short stories about his life figuring out how to live as Jesus lived. His stories are pure, and his faith is simple. In his most recent book, Everybody Always, Chapter 12 is entitled “Three Minutes at a Time.” Bob travels weekly for his job, and spends plenty of time in his local airport. He has spent many hours of his life wading through airport security. I imagine he had plenty of unpleasant experiences with disgruntled airport employees. Yet, he met someone named Adrian that was different.
Adrian’s job was to check IDs and tickets at the start of the security line. He encountered a number of anxious and frustrated people who were inconvenienced by the long line. Some people were happy because they were going on vacation or to see family. Others were sad because they were travelling to say goodbye to loved ones, or leaving those they love for quite some time. The tension in the line was palpable. No matter who Adrian encountered, and no matter what their mood was, he treated them with love and respect. He greeted them each with love, and his small action helped to make the miserable experience better for each ID he checked. Bob wanted to meet him, so he began a friendship with Adrian – a conversation that only lasted 3 minutes at a time.
When Adrian and Bob first met, after introducing himself, Bob said, “I’ve passed by you a dozen times and I just wanted to thank you for the way you treat each person in line. It’s really amazing. They way you treat people reminds me a lot of the way Jesus loved.” Adrian looked up from the license he was checking and he didn’t say a word. His eyes welled up with tears, and he reached out to embrace Bob. This was the start of a beautiful friendship that lasted for many years. All because Bob chose to stop, acknowledge, and expose Emmanuel for all to see. He highlighted the presence of Christ in Adrian, and this Emmanuel Moment was moving for them both.
It’s really difficult – in the midst of the hustle and bustle – to stop and see Emmanuel. This season brings about many beautiful moments, but it also incorporates moments filled with frustration, confusion, hurriedness, and even sadness. It isn’t easy to take a step back from tense moments and look for an anchor – a palpable presence of God that resonates love. Recognizing such moments or identifying the people who provide that stability and indiscriminate grace is powerful for us to perceive. Bob took things to the next level when he held up a magnifying glass to Adrian’s Christ-like love. The moment with Emmanuel was a shared one, not a private one. Not very different from the birth of the Christ-child. Jesus’ birth and revelation for all the world was a shared Emmanuel moment. The shepherds, stable animals, Bethlehem locals, Mary & Joseph, the angels, and eventually the Magi all bore witness to the magnitude of God bringing pure love into the world.