On my way to Scandinavia, in transit in South Wing, Terminal One in Japan; stuck in a line that is advancing as slow as it took Seurat to connect all the dots.
I look up to spy a portrait that is even fuzzier; one that takes longer to come into complete focus.
It started out looking like this . . .
And as I tried to make sense of it, drew back, which made it look like this:
But what did these images add up to?
Moving the range-finder around, here and there, made the story come into greater focus. (Even if the pictures didn't!)
It could have been the word "Japan" that gave it away -- a national designation; perhaps the fact that 6 kids were all decked out in identical sweat pants and zippered fleeces. It might have been the fact that we were heading off to Beijing -- site of the up-coming congregation of sporting nations. It might have been the fact that a number of other camera shutters started hissing in unison, recording the unfolding scene.
Or it might have been the exhortation of the middle-aged man in front of me -- "Go Japan! Fight hard."
Designating this group before us as one of the ReDot's official entries into the up-coming Summer Olympiad.
Well, the exhortation was something more like a tepid exhalation. As if the guy wasn't used to unleashing his private self in public space. Japanese for you. On the other hand, he was too enamored of nation to simply remain restrained. So, out came the "Yeah, team" spirit, the "go get 'em, lads" (although there were two lasses sporting a flag patch, in the mix).
Nationalism is a powerful thing. And it can even lead to the upcropping of certain jealousies (not to mention other dangerous emotions).
What I mean is that here I was struggling to keep my bulky gear upright and orderly and moving at a constant pace down the row, but it was all up to me; my responsibility, entirely. No one was going to intercede on my behalf to make sure I made it to the conveyor. But, slap a national symbol on someone's chest and -- well, whole different story; entirely new ballgame.
Those six kids with red dots stitched here and there on their clothing?: they might be sensational kayakers, but they are entirely worthless as travelers. Their 4 weeks worth of socks and shorts and t-shirts and comic books -- which they had heaped in helpless disarray at their feet?: for whatever reason, they couldn't seem to figure out how to advance them from the front of the queue to the ticketing agent 6 paces further.
Maybe because there was no water flowing in between.
On the other hand, they had no real reason to worry. Because, with all those red dots swimming on their sleeves and backs and chests and thighs, they had heaps of offers.
The gear was now being snapped up and conveyed by airline personnel the 6 paces to the waiting weighing station. The ticketers, all sitting patriotically (thus patiently) seemed in no hurry to push our national kayaking heroes toward completion.
Ah, if only travel could be like that for me! Even once.
Actually, the snapping up was all done only by one. The real hero of this event -- and the guy who really deserves the gold medal; he was an aging dude with the China Airline patch on his shirt. He stepped in and schlepped the kids' gear from here to there, performing all the heavy lifting all by himself. Even as a team of younger, buffer airline workers stood by and watched. Even as this crew of well-toned athletes stood by, as if life was as blurry as that passing through my camera lens. Observing the gold medal performer in stuck-fast awe.
Perhaps even more so, since the old guy managed inbetween hefts to tell the (entirely worthless) team manager that she was only getting in the way, he'd take care of it, just go back and get your kids up to the ticketing window.
In reaction to which you could see the athletes putting their heads together . . .
"Hey, no one ever talked to her like that."
"Who would have imagined?"
"I guess anything's possible."
"Yeah, life might even get more interesting in Beijing!"
I know that old guy was thinking the same thing I was: who on earth in a management position shows up to international transit day like they are contemplating clubbing as soon as the plane touches down? It's hard to understand what sort of message a deep-scooped bodice and platform heels will convey, or how they are really going to be serviceable communication techniques on the day that you are shepherding a team of late teens through the martial bureaucracy of a communist country.
I'm sure I could be missing a key point here. It might even be my jealousy showing through. Me, not having the proper team spirit. Maybe, like the old guy single-handedly hefting all the kayaks onto the conveyor, she thought she was doing her part.
You never know how all the little things will add up to a medal.
Everyone going above and beyond the call. For airline. For team. For country.