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Roots and Wings

Watching life’s departures and arrivals


Unfolding before my nest in the south are two images that remind me of the departures and arrivals that are constant in our lives. One is a view of the glorious Manila sunset that never fails to inspire and awe every late afternoon; and second, the graceful dance of planes gliding slowly to land on NAIA’s runway at various points in the day, almost simultaneously with other planes taking off and disappearing into the skies.

Endings, they say, are only portals to beginnings we have yet to see.

My first job straight out of college was an entry-level position at Philippine Airlines. It involved welcoming the plane and its passengers, and sending it off snug and safe. Certainly not rocket science, but it was a job that allowed me to travel and gave me a front seat to the daily drama of life’s arrivals and departures.

Assigned to NAIA 1, I would often spend my break sitting in a restaurant on the second floor, watching planes land and take off. For some strange reason I always found that to be a soothing sight. The sound of the planes overhead never bothered me, and in fact to this day, it’s the “alarm” that wakes me in the morning, and the lullaby that cradles me to sleep.

Perhaps my affinity to it was a portent of the many comings and goings I would encounter in the decades that followed, long after I had left my job and the confines of the airport.

My mother thinks I’m a strange bird, because she who dreads getting onboard a plane would spawn someone fascinated by airports and thrilled by flight. Although I admit that takeoffs, landings and air turbulence would count as my most prayerful moments, it’s when I am also seated 36,000 feet above the ground that I feel closest to God.

And then there is what I call the holding patterns in one’s life. These are the times when we lose jobs, relationships, friends; when we are in suspended animation after a diagnosis or news from home that we weren’t quite expecting; when a loved one dies, or when we await for someone to wake up from a coma; when we await the decision about something we have long been praying for.

In these holding patterns, everything is uncertain and ambiguous that we cling with dear life to God, trusting and believing that in His time He will allow good endings to our apprehensions and anxieties.

At the airport, the sight of families and friends bidding one another farewell never fails to move me: the daughter weeping, clutching at her father’s hand; the parent hugging a child; a man and a woman locked in a tight embrace at the same time; the unbridled joy of a loved one coming home after years of being away.

Each ending only heralds that we begin again. We mourn and weep for what is temporarily or permanently lost, and then we find the courage to start over again. And we do, because when we ask, we are always guided and given the courage to begin no matter how long and how often it takes.

There is a prayer that I love, and one that I always say for loved ones, especially my children whenever I need to be away from them for short or long periods of time: “Lord, stand in the gap. Fill the emptiness and loneliness, and keep my loved one safe, until we meet again.”

My children are now at that age when they have begun building lives of their own. Like any parent, there are moments of anxiety when they are away with friends or for a school project or trip. The prayer becomes my mantra, a promise I hold on to that soothes my heart, that my child will be safe until we see each other again.

Farewells, I’ve always believed, must be treated with kindness, love and respect. The last memory you have of someone must always be one that is filled with joy. Leave with a heart filled with peace and joy, and not with an angry one, so that when you look back, there is no regret for things unsaid or undone.

Over the years, in the space between the endings and beginnings, I have found that prayer is the only bridge that will see us through. In prayer, one not only asks, but listens for guidance. Prayer is what strengthens the heart and gives it courage, fills it with peace and positive anticipation.

In the darkest recesses between departure and arrival, prayer is the light that shows the way.

It is dark now as I write this. From my nest, in the distance, lights flicker from planes lining up to take flight, loaded with stories marked by endings and beginnings. Above me, in the distance, bright and tiny lights flicker like fireflies, breaking gently through the clouds, the evening skies illumined by planes heading safely home, filled with hearts ready for adventures, or brimming with anticipation for homecomings wrapped in equal parts of sadness and joy.

Follow the author on Twitter @cathybabao

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Tags: Arrivals , Departures , loneliness , Manila sunset , NAIA runway , Philippine Airlines

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