I’m on the way home from the retreat, back to the real world. Home to my darling husband and my sweet puppy. After flying from Winnipeg to Vancouver, I had to pass through U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
I was randomly selected for an additional luggage screening and had to go into a separate waiting room where my luggage would be x-rayed. My name was called and I approached the border agent with my passport and boarding pass in hand. She was pretty. Her name badge said “BURNS.”
She asked me where I was coming from. “Winnipeg,” I replied, “actually about two hours east. I was at a retreat for bereaved mothers.” She looked at me gently, “Did you have a nice time?” “I did,” I replied quietly. I looked down at the countertop, I was starting to cry.
“Ok, Ms. Duke,” she said kindly. “It will just be a few minutes while we screen your luggage. Please have a seat over there.”
I scanned the room, which was fairly empty, and picked a spot away from a family of 3 waiting to be screened. They had a little boy who, I’d guess, was a little over a year old. He was cute, but my focus didn’t linger. It’s too painful, a bitter reminder of what should be mine.
They were called up to the counter. I started picking at my thumbnail, feeling a bit nervous, a little overwhelmed. I heard the mother say in a cute voice, “Are those little pigs on her bag? What sound does a pig make? Oink. Oink.”
She was referring to my carryon luggage. I glanced up but avoided eye contact. Her little boy was fixated, his little legs kicking to get down off her hip.
“Let’s go see it,” she suggested to him.
You’ve got to be kidding me, I thought to myself. She set him down and he teeter tottered over to my seat. I acknowledged him briefly as he inspected the brightly colored pattern.
“Oh, they are owls!” the mother exclaimed. “How cute! What sound does an owl make?” she asked her son. “Hoot! Hoot!”
It was unbearable. Someone please save me. I looked away. Then I looked up at the agent. Her eyes actually met mine. We locked in. She was aching with me.
The agent finished talking with the husband. The mother picked up her son and just like that, they were gone. I took a deep breath, stared at the floor, and tried to stop picking at my thumbnail.
“Ms. Duke, I’ve got your luggage. I’m just putting it through the scanner now.”
“Thanks, Ms. Burns,” I perked up and smiled meekly.
A few minutes later, with my passport and boarding pass in hand, she called my name again. “Let me escort you out the door.”
We passed through together. Standing now on the other side, I realized how tall she was, at least 6 feet. Bright blue eyes, thin and fit, her hair pulled back into a tight bun.
“I don’t know you,” she started, as her eyes filled with tears. “I don’t know your story,” she said bringing her hands to her heart, “but you are in my prayers. I will keep you in my prayers. I’m so sorry for your loss.” She wiped tears from her face.
I was stunned. Tears streamed down my face now. She held out her arms. I couldn’t believe it. She wanted to hug me. I held her tightly and thanked her dearly.
Passport in hand, I walked away with renewed hope. A random screening turned into a very meaningful moment, one I’ll never forget. I don’t know Ms. Burns’ story, but she showed up just when I needed her. An earthly angel to hold me in my sorrow for my lost child. I can’t help but think that Poppy was there too, holding us both from beyond.