Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Super Powers

While sliding my credit card in and out of the self check-in kiosk at the Memphis airport, I look up and . . . Spider-man! Coincidentally, the scheduled intermittent "If-you-see-anything-suspicious..." recorded message begins broadcasting over the PA system.

"Okay," I say to myself, "it seems like a guy dressed in a Spider-man suit might qualify as suspicious--especially since his Spandex pants reveal too saggy of buns to be those of the Real Spidey." But a gun-toting policeman mingles among the band of onlookers, so I figure everything's under control. (At least I assume he's a Real Policeman and not just another guy impersonating a policeman, like the Spider-man guy is impersonating the Real Spidey.)

After passing through the checkpoint and grabbing a sandwich, I arrive at my gate and discover Spider-man is now there. (What are the odds?) He's been joined by Buzz Lightyear, sporting hefty backside buns and carrying a towel with which he occasionally swipes his face after raising the face guard on his space helmet. There is now a bigger crowd and a giant cake, its cut pieces circulating throughout the gate area along with free bottles of water. (Wouldn't you know THIS time I'd been smart enough to buy one!) A fabulous congratulatory sign hangs near the boarding area.

After a brief assessment and a little unintentional eavesdropping, it all comes into focus for me: a small child, who has become the center of attention, and his family are receiving this special sendoff through Make-A-Wish and the good nature of two airport maintenance men nabbed for the superhero jobs. I study the expressions on the boy's parents' faces, recall my friend's daughter who was long-ago granted a going-to-Disney wish and silently give thanks for her good health all these decades later. I pray the same fate for the boy, then can't help but add a prayer for the ongoing wellness of my sweet granddaughter.

While the bald boy shyly chats with Spider-man and Buzz, I notice a female security guard quickly sidestep out of their view to hide behind a nearby pillar. What on earth? But the angle at which I'm sitting reveals her purpose: to wipe away tears, so touched is she--so touched are all of us--by the possibilities we know lurk at the root of this celebration. I swallow as I catch her eye, then both of us quickly look away.

So as not to continue to stare (and to keep myself from snagging a second piece of cake) I decide to check my e-mail. Although Memphis is a Wi-Fi-for-pay airport, I don't want to fork over my credit card number until I find out if there is consistent reception in this area. (Hey, you know how it often goes in airports: good reception by the second barbecue place but none in front of the hot dog stand.) I ask the man sitting next to me--the lanky laid-back man with the well traveled briefcase--if he's by chance logged on yet.

"I don't travel with a laptop," he says. "I'm also antiquated in that I don't travel with a cell phone either."

"How often do you travel?" Briefcases usually don't lie and his looks like it's been through serious rigors.

"Three or four times a month."

"For business?" Surely not!

"Yes," he says, flashing a beatific glow of serenity my way. "I can always find a pay phone," he explains, obviously taking note of my raised eyebrows. "I have an 800 number in my office and I call in once or twice a day to pick up messages. I've learned that 99.9 percent of business issues can wait until tomorrow."

I stare for a moment, no doubt blinking like a wide-eyed South Park character. I look once again toward the boy, his parents, Spider-man and Buzz Lightyear (who suddenly appear remarkably more Real), the security guard who has now stepped back out from behind the beam, the laughing ladies cutting more cake. . . .

I slip my iPAQ back into my bag, sit back, take a deep breath, exhale and relax. I take a swig of refreshing water, noting the sweet remnant of frosting still bathing my pallet.

I realize I am surrounded by-- ZAP! KAPOWIE! BAM!-- everyday super heroes, each using his or her powers to infuse a tired family with a moment of joy and hope. Heroic, too, the small boy who has undoubtedly endured so much and yet who beams his bright and precious smile at everyone surrounding him. People who serve, those who slug on no matter what the nature of their hearts . . . and yes, a heroic and inspiring road warrior packing centering words of wisdom rather than ray guns or electronics.

As 2006 winds down and this, my twentieth Traveling Laugh, hits cyberspace, I take my hat off to all of you everyday heroes, each finding your way while at the same time lighting the way for others. Thank you for stepping up to don capes and smiles, or for sitting down to catch your breath so you can breathe relaxation and a good dose of perspective into those around you. There is always somebody watching, and on a grace-filled day in the Memphis airport, this time it was me.