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…)


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