THE CELEBRITY OF SHOWING UP

YOU might remember, a few weeks ago, I was a fly on the wall witnessing the tears and heartache of international departures.

And while there’s a strange, sad comfort in experiencing the inevitability of life’s goodbyes, there’s nothing quite like being part of the expectant throng outside those sliding doors of arrivals.

In his 2008 novel Illustrado, Miguel Syjuco wrote, “The ruckus of homecoming is brutally enjoyable and makes everyone feel like a champion. All you have to do is stay away long enough.”

It’s true, the threshold of international arrivals is a democratic place. You don’t have to be a rock star, victorious athlete, or Hollywood A-lister to have your moment in the spotlight. Those doors make even the most bleary-eyed, jet-lagged traveller a fleeting celebrity.

There must have been 200 of us congregated on Monday night, and each time the frosted-glass doors parted it felt like we collectively held our breath – each expecting our loved-one to step into their familiar hemisphere.

I couldn’t help thinking of the opening scene of Richard Curtis’s Love Actually.

“It seems to me that love is everywhere,” the narrator says. (Cue Wet Wet Wet). “Often it's not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it's always there – fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends…”

Sure it’s corny, maybe clichéd, but there aren’t too many public places these days where physical, undeniably honest expressions of love overshadow the general malaise of want and greed.

There were moments during my hour-and-a-half wait when I thought, even if I wasn’t here to meet my son I’d be happy just being part of the melting pot.

The ruckus of homecoming ... makes everyone feel like a champion.

I chatted with an elderly lady who was there to meet her own son – an expat living in London. She hadn’t seen him for five years. Her excitement was tinged with sadness that this might be the last time she would see him.

I looked on as two brothers in their 60s were reunited – Italian I guessed, from the grabs of their conversation. They embraced and kissed each other’s rough-stubbled faces with tears of happiness.

And all 200 of us bore witness, it seemed, as one young woman stepped through the doors, spotted her extremely tall partner, then simply dropped her bags and launched herself at him. Four feet off the ground, she wrapped her arms and legs around his torso, smothering him in kisses. He was red with embarrassment, the rest of us simply in awe of such a genuine expression of love.

My own son never made it to the celebrity doors. Waylaid by customs because of some suspicious juggling balls in his luggage, he was ushered out a side exit.

When I eventually found him, he was busy helping out another traveller. Typical of him to avoid the limelight. Living proof of Lao Tzu’s assertion that real travel is rarely about the destination.

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