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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Art, music and a distant longing

by Steve Brock on January 30, 2015

Sacred Places by Christian Burchard

I’m driving home from a meeting. The radio is on. NPR. Garrison Keillor to be exact, his lounging voice reciting in its rhythmic gait the words of Anne Porter’s poem, “Music.”  You can (and should to fully appreciate the meaning of all this) pop over and read her poem now.

Work by Jason WalkerBack with me? Her poem surprised me since it ends in a far different place than where I expected at the start. But such is the nature of good writing and good trips.

Two days later, I take a short trip over to Bellevue, WA. It’s not a typical tourist destination, but it’s more than sufficient for our needs. I’m taking my wife on a date to make up for more than my share of travel lately. We have a wonderful lunch then we go to the Bellevue Art Museum.

I love their exhibit of John Economaki’s work at Bridge City Tools, of Jason Walker’s whimsical yet thought-provoking ceramics and most of all their BAM Bienniel 2014: Knock on Wood. As the name suggests, all of the works in this latter show were made in whole or in part from trees.

Have you ever been somewhere – a museum, a fair, a restaurant or even a party – where you enjoy each piece, experience, dish or person individually, but collectively they build to a cumulative sense of sheer delight? That was my feeling at the show, but even that description doesn’t capture exactly how I felt.

Perhaps it was wonder.

Or maybe something more. A reaction more akin to longing. More like this line from Anne Porter’s poem:

Why is it that music
At its most beautiful
Opens a wound in us
An ache a desolation
Deep as a homesickness
For some far-off
And half-forgotten country

Substitute the word “art” or even “travel” and the sentiment still holds true.

Works by Morse ClaryWhy is it? She answers that question in the last stanzas of her poem.

Is what she writes the only answer for how we feel? A complete answer? Likely not. But is it satisfying? In its own way, yes. It helps explain why all of us have these moments where we encounter beauty that moves us so profoundly that we don’t know what to do with it or with ourselves.

Music, art, even travel touches us and reminds us that:

We have been wandering
But we were made for Paradise
As deer for the forest

So close, so far 1-3 by Brian WilsonWe retain only vestiges of memory of our lost native country and when windows – gaps or glimpses more likely – open up and open us up to that half-forgotten place, we sigh. We know it to be true. Or at least, we want it to be true and sometimes that may be enough.

Works by Helga WinterWhat this short trip did was remind me that in music, art, travel or other areas of passion, we find not what we may have been looking for, but what we need to be reminded of. We need these soul-stirring awakenings in this life to remember that there is more to (and than) this life. So much more.

And best of all, in and through all of this, we have a Guide who brings us to these moments, moments of wonder that satisfy us even as they stir in us the yearning for that something more. A Guide who, as Anne Porter notes,

also came to live with us
And wanders where we wander.

Therein lies the deepest wonder of all.


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