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Sandy Barton: It’s a joy to watch loved ones reunite

I love the airport. I spend a fair amount of time there, and I go of my own free will; no one has to twist my arm. I understand why many people say they hate the place – flights aren’t on time, baggage is held up, security is a pain – but I still love it.

Dropping off is not my favorite part; it usually signals the end of a visit home for the kids, or my sister. The thud of the suitcase as the wheels hit the ground is how I feel when I have to say goodbye – heavy, like somebody needs to lug me to the sidewalk. That last hug, that last “I love you” and then they’re off, waving that one last wave before they step through the automatic doors. Then back into the car I go and drive home with nothing but the empty seat next to me and a song on the radio.

Picking up? Well, that’s another story. It’s my favorite part by far. Strange as it may seem, I go early so I can wait. Yes, I like to wait – and watch. The airport is the best people-watching spot in Buffalo, especially for people like me who tend to cry at Hallmark commercials.

Anticipation is a beautiful phenomenon. There behind the glass wall, between the rows of seats, saturating the air, ricocheting off the see-through barrier, anticipation grows. Not only am I anxiously awaiting someone special, but I fall victim to the contagious anticipation of those around me. Nana’s coming for a visit, Mommy’s home from deployment, Dad’s been away on a business trip, all kinds of reasons for people to be sitting there with me, waiting.

Many years ago, when you could still go to the gates to wait, I witnessed a young couple, surrounded by family and friends, cry tears of joy as their newly adopted baby was placed into their arms. I cried right along with them, and felt a little left out when I watched the last of the balloons and signs and family disappear around the corner, leaving me at the gate, waiting.

Another favorite was when I was there to welcome home a dear friend’s dad, Russell Schober, after his day in Washington with the other vets on an Honor Flight. What a homecoming that was. Talk about tears!

But my very favorite part of waiting is the anticipation that morphs into signs and bouquets, extra winter coats and “I Love Grandma” shirts. That’s when it starts to get interesting.

If only the people hurrying down the hall, usually unaware that they’ve been spotted, could hear the comments from our side of the glass. They would feel like rock stars, or dignitaries, or visiting royalty. “There she is!” “Where?” “There!” “I can’t see him … oh wait … behind the kid with Mickey Mouse ears … I see him!”

From that moment on, I sit and watch the beauty unfold. At some point between the corner and the last short hall, they look at us behind the glass, they spot the waiters and the smile appears. It’s gradual at first, then full out ear-to-ear happiness. The hugs, the kisses, the chatter and even some tears erupt into a frenzy of welcomes that eventually splinter off as they all go in different directions, down different roads, to different homes, to tell their tales.

As I think about all of the trips to the airport I’ve made over the past few years, there’s never been a time that I’ve missed a chance to appreciate the moment when eyes meet, and the smiles begin. There’s something quite beautiful about knowing you’ve been missed.