Uppermost House: And there they stood

PeterLewisTreehouseCMYKBy S. Peter Lewis

BN Columnist

The man yanked his car quickly to the curb in the passenger pickup zone at the airport, jumped out without closing his door fully, and hurried toward the baggage-claim door.

“I’m sorry, sir,” the security guard barked, stepping into the man’s path and holding up two enormous gloved paws.

“But you don’t understand,” the man said, skidding to a stop. “She’s in there!”

“You can’t leave your vehicle unattended, sir.”

“Come on!” pleaded the man, juking deftly to his left.

“I’m sorry sir, those are the rules,” the guard said, countering to his right.

“But I have to,” the man said, completing his end-around and scooting defiantly past.

The guard looked quickly and at the car, saw a figure in the passenger seat. “Well, okay then,” he said to the air.

Racing toward the automatic revolving door. Hopping up and down until an opening appeared. Dashing into the opening. Pushing against the sluggish glass as it slowly revolved. Finally bursting out into the crowded concourse and banging a quick left, dodging travelers young and old and saying, “Look out! Pardon me! Oh, sorry” in fits and starts as he worked upstream.

Baggage claim. People everywhere. The disgorged and the weary of American flight 3759 from Philadelphia. The clotted crowd at the huge machine with its revolving carousel and its shiny sliding metal panels. Everyone milling around and peering into the strange maw, which spewed and belched blobs of vinyl and naugahyde. Trying to find their luggage in the indistinguishable current. I must paste bright pink stickers all over my bags, some of them thought. Clicking heels and towing things while working electronic gadgets with their thumbs. Bobbing and weaving and not making eye contact, a great and mostly impersonal mob, dissatisfied and on the move from here to somewhere else.

And she somewhere in the swirling midst of it.

The man stopped and scanned. Shuffled and sidestepped and stood on tiptoes.

And then, there she was. Tall and beautiful and eager, clutching her carry-on and staring into the bustling throng. Panning her head this way and that. Furrowing her brows and munching anxiously on her lower lip.

And then they saw each other and the girl dropped her carry-on and held out her arms and the man held out his arms and ran.

Now this was to be no normal hug; this was going to be the kind of hug you see at a hockey game, except without the malice and busted teeth. This would be a full-contact hug that lifts you off the ground and knocks your hat off.

Squished thusly together, father and daughter held on. And held on. Two human beings for the moment indistinguishable. Two lives and two hearts and 23 years of growing up together and going through hard times side by side all mashed into a kind of singular and wonderful entity. Each relying on the other to keep them from falling over, for this was one of those hard times. Sniffles and tears and faint whispers, but almost no words. There didn’t need to be any words.

And the minutes went by and the crowds thinned and the knot of humanity around the pair slowly untangled, shuffling feet and squeaking luggage wheels and squirming children and the ringtones of smartphones quietly fading away. The cacophonous chatter of the just-reunited slowly growing fainter, as if a flock of gossiping ducks were waddling toward short-term parking.

And father and daughter stayed conjoined. Oblivious. Wrapped up for three minutes. Five minutes. And longer still. The room became a ghost town, three beat up suitcases making endless laps around baggage claim number two, a lone businessman in the corner looking at text messages.

Scientists say that hugging is very good for us, and they quantify this by citing all sorts of chemical reactions involving substances like oxytocin, dopamine and serotonin, and by making helpful statements about things like the “parasympathetic balance,” telling us that “The skin contains a network of tiny, egg-shaped pressure centres called Pacinian corpuscles that can sense touch and which are in contact with the brain through the vagus nerve. The galvanic skin response of someone receiving and giving a hug shows a change in skin conductance.” Such conductance and related physiology creates a magical cascade of chemistry whereby anxiety and fear ebb away, and faith, trust, contentment, and joy soar. They say a hug needs to last at least 20 seconds for this to happen; but back at the airport, father and daughter haven’t moved — What if the hug never ends.

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