Forgetting grace – Part 1

by Steve Brock on November 7, 2016

Forgetting Grace - Madrid Airport“It’s not here,” I replied to my wife’s inquiry as to what was wrong. “My passport is gone.”

This realization occurred in line to go through passport control in Madrid’s Barajas International Airport. My wife, two sons and I had made it through security and customs and had this one last checkpoint to clear. But when I pulled out our stack of passports, instead of the usual four, I had only three.

I frantically searched pockets and my bag, but that little blue booklet that let me in and out of countries was nowhere to be found. I fought the panic as I told my family to go ahead, board the flight to Chicago (our stopover on the way home) and God willing, I would try and find my lost passport. At this point, we had about 75 minutes until the plane departed.

I figured there were two possibilities. First, I could have left my passport on the bench where I waited for my family as they did some last minute shopping in the terminal. Second, I recall thinking it odd that in security, they had put our four passports and tickets into the small plastic bowl to go through the X-ray. When the bowl came out the other side, our passports were all scattered on the belt. I just assumed the bowl had been knocked over so I grabbed the passports and tickets without counting them.

Madrid is the main entry and exit point for Spain. Its airport is huge. Signs inform you that it can take over an hour to reach particular gates because of security, the trains that shuttle you back and forth, and the sheer length of some of the terminals. Just making it back to security and then to return here would be tricky enough given the logistics of the place. And that assumed they had my passport in security.

I started by asking the man there at passport control what to do. He gave me an expression I would see multiple times over the coming moments, an incredulous look like, “How can that be? Who loses a passport at the airport itself?” Well, someone like me.

He told me to return to security. I caught the train (a ten minute ride), had to exit all of the secure area, go back through X-rays, try to get an answer at the airline counter (too long a line), go to another airline counter (not helpful), go to the information desk (not clear), and finally go to security, only to find out that they had no report of a lost passport. They told me to go to the police station in the airport. I asked several others along the way for directions and got different answers. Finally, after a few more inquiries and similar expressions of shock and conflicting responses, I went back to a different section of the security area than before. By this time, I had forty minutes until the plane departed. Perhaps that registered on my expression for when I asked another woman there about where to go, she didn’t hurriedly point me to a different location. She calmly told me to wait right there.

Moments later a police officer in full body armor came over to me. I started to explain my situation. He stopped me mid-sentence and asked my name. My name? Was this to suddenly turn into a social event? But I gave it. My full name. The one you’d find in a passport.

He too told me to wait (something that was becoming increasingly difficult to do). However, I did. And one minute later he returned and held up a little dark blue booklet. My passport.

My Spanish, which had somehow got me through this mess so far, suddenly failed me. I think I repeated “Gracias” about seven times. It’s all I could say. I would have hugged the man, but all that body armor…

Instead, I ran. I went as fast as possible pulling my carry-on through the airport. Out of security. Through the main terminal. Down to the train area. I waited then boarded the same train back out to my concourse. With the ten-minute ride, I was now down to 20 minutes until my flight departed. I was practically leaning into the train doors when I finally got to the concourse. I flew out and went around the corner expecting to go down the hall and into the main passport control area where, an hour earlier, maybe 30 or 40 people had been ahead of me.

Now, I barely made it off the train before I ran into the line. This queue to clear passport control currently had several hundred people in it. How could this have happened in less than an hour? My guess is that if I got in that line now, I’d be there for at least another 90 minutes.

I had been praying all through this experience, but now, the combination of incredulous relief that I’d found my passport ran smack into the reality that it was possibly all too late. I’d never make my flight now.


(To be continued…)


If you found this interesting, why don't you share it with others?

1 comment

Travel, loss and memory

by Steve Brock on August 3, 2016

Panting GingerWhat I’m about to write is unfinished business. I likely should not even share these thoughts until they are better formed and understood. But because I’m wandering in the realm of emotions here, I fear that by the time I gain a more complete intellectual understanding of it all, I will have lost the deeper power and meaning of the experience.


Four days ago, we had to put our beloved Labrador Retriever, Ginger, to sleep. I always thought that expression – putting an animal to sleep – was a euphemism: no one wants to own up to what you’re really doing. But after stroking Ginger’s head as the vet gave her the injection and she gently closed her eyes for the last time, I realize how appropriate the phrase is.

All during the almost 13 years that we’ve had Ginger, whenever a family member would project human emotions or perceived understanding on her, I would say, “C’mon. She’s just a dog.” But as any pet owner of good will and generous spirit learns, that’s not really true. Ginger wasn’t just a dog. She was our dog. And now part of us is gone.



Today I ran into a friend I see every few months. My wife and I have been praying for her husband who has been battling cancer for the last few years. I found out today that he recently passed away.

I think the tears that came unbidden mattered more than any words I could say to her. Tears that flowed easier for me due to my own sadness. If grief were a game of comparisons, I would lose. But it’s not. Grief is instead something we simply share. Something we stumble our way through…together.

My friend said how hard it is now to be only a person, not a couple. To find a task at home that required her husband’s strength. To see an object of his and remember. And then she wondered if that will last: Will she reach a point where she ceases to remember? She worried that she might forget him. I have wondered the same thing about Ginger. But then I assured her she will not. And here’s how I know.


GingerYesterday I walked through the park where we used to let Ginger run free to retrieve a thrown ball or stick. If I had to convey in one single image of what pure joy looks like, it would be Ginger running toward me, stick in mouth, full throttle in undiminished, exquisite happiness.

People refer to “a stab of pain” when a memory hits hard. But it’s more, to me, like a constriction. In your throat, your lungs, your gut. That’s how it was there in the park. The memory came and then a wave of sadness washed over me even as I was beginning to reassemble the pieces of that memory. And slowly, amidst the sadness, the happy time came into focus only to have that overshadowed by the realization I will never see Ginger run with such joyful abandonment again. Pain. Tenderness. Loss. Delight. Repeat.

As I thought about it, the moment reminded me in a very small way of that bittersweet feeling you have when traveling. Where you encounter people and places that move you in ways you didn’t know you could be moved. And then, even as you are wanting to stay forever in that moment, you’re not. You are the one moving. Away. Beyond. Back to a life so unlike what you have just experienced.

I realize that longing from a trip and the death of a loved one aren’t even close in impact and importance. But they do share this: They are feelings, conflicted ones. And both are forms of loss that have taught me something important: how to nurture a memory.

I know how to stay in that moment of deep pain or mere discomfort long enough for it to settle into something more. Something redemptive. Something that, while hard, will eventually reinforce and clarify what is good. And I believe my friend understands this as well.

But if she does not, I will share that with her. For it is in sharing and reminding, of laughing together at the good memories and being there for each other during the hard ones, that we hold onto what we have lost. We will, on our own, eventually lose some of the details and fine points in what we remember. But through each other and the artifacts of life – objects, familiar places, photographs and stories – we will be reminded. Of a sweet smile, a tender touch or in my case, the sheer joy of a dog running with a stick.

We won’t forget.

Ginger and Connor

If you found this interesting, why don't you share it with others?


Move and be moved – Part 1

by Steve Brock on May 23, 2013

I’d heard of the memorial and vaguely recalled the past events that led to its construction. But until last week, it meant little to me.

Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum Just a few days before the devastating tornado touched down a dozen or so miles from there this week, I stood amidst the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum. I came not so much to pay tribute to those killed on April 19, 1995 when the rental truck driven by Timothy McVeigh exploded, cutting short the life of 168 people.

Oklahoma City National Memorial and MuseumInstead, I arrived simply because my work meetings on my business trip there had ended early. My four colleagues and I were looking for something of interest until our plane departed four hours later. We decided on the memorial for reasons that stemmed more out of a lack of other choice than intention.

Oklahoma City National Memorial and MuseumAs we approached the memorial, we took in the murmured whispers of other visitors, the  dark arches that bookend the black reflecting pool and the ochre colored building that now houses the site’s museum. Minutes later, we stood on the curved overlook listening to the park ranger as he filled in details that added incredible meaning to the space around us.

Listening to the RangerHe told of the rental truck loaded with enough fertilizer that, when ignited, left a crater seven feet deep and 27 feet wide – the distance, he pointed out, between two trees across from us. He explained about McVeigh’s getaway car parked at the time to the left of where we now stood, left unattended and unmoved for a week before the blast.

Oklahoma City National Memorial and MuseumHe told of how the axle of the blown up rental truck landed over a block away, smashing a car but not harming the person inside. How that axle’s serial number led to identifying the truck which led to finding its rental location and a description of McVeigh. How by not having license plates on the getaway car, McVeigh was pulled over an hour and a half north of here and arrested not for anything related to the explosion but because of an unregistered concealed gun they found on him when they pulled him over. How the FBI pieced it all together so quickly and made the connections that led to McVeigh’s eventual execution six years later.

Chairs of the VictimsThe ranger also recounted the personal loss in what is still the deadliest terrorist attack on US soil carried out by its own citizens. He pointed out the 168 bronze and glass chairs on the lawn across from us, one for each victim, the small ones representing the children killed that day.

The memorial wallStories and more stories, far too numerous to recount here but all made more tangible by what we could see, hear and touch.

Oklahoma City National Memorial and MuseumThe power of such memorials is that they are physical reminders that tell those of us who lived through the time of the events, “Remember.” And to those who come later: “Learn and do not forget.”

Oklahoma City National Memorial and MuseumTravel moves us from place to place. But often, if we avail ourselves, take the time and venture forth on “unnecessary” side trips, it moves us in other ways.

Jesus Wept at OKC MemorialI had no intention when I left on this business trip last week to visit this place. Now I cannot imagine ever forgetting it.

If you found this interesting, why don't you share it with others?

1 comment

Gratitude and the slippery slope – Part 1

by Steve Brock May 30, 2012

A hiking trip to the mountains that starts with whining and an ungrateful heart changes when I come face-to-face with the possibility of great loss

Read the full article →

Sadness and serendipity – Part 2

by Steve Brock October 21, 2011

You travel to a funeral expecting to mourn the family member you lost. But sometimes, you find instead a better appreciation for the family you have.

Read the full article →

Sadness and Serendipity – Part 1

by Steve Brock October 18, 2011

Even on difficult journeys, God provides what we need but in ways we would never expect and often through the kindness of strangers.

Read the full article →

Ugly Beautiful

by Steve Brock October 12, 2011

Some trips, like those involving the loss of a loved one, are journeys we would rather not take…until we do and we discover something beautiful.

Read the full article →