“Aussie, I’m leaving!”
“OMG, it’s the end of the world!”
“It’s not the end of the world, Auss.”
“The pack is done. Finito. First Harry’s gone, and now you.”
“Only for a short time, Aussie. Not the end of the world.”
“Easy for you to say. The pack is gone. The world as I know it is gone.”
I remember Aussie’s words when I enter Newark Airport, in New Jersey. There are lines in front of the United counter, but almost no one in the lines for general security. Once on the other side, I look up at the monitor, its five panels usually filled with listings of United flights flying around the world, and you can see above how many flights they show. Only 2/3 of one panel shows flights, the others are either blank or carry ads.
I look at CIBO and other food express markets. No sandwiches, just a few varieties of potato chips.
Bernie and I flew many times through Newark, a hub for United Airlines, and I would complain about the people squeezing sideways just to walk through the concourses and, of course, the long lines in the women’s restrooms. Today there is no line in the women’s restroom.
You’d think the airport would look cavernous without people, but if anything, it seems to have shrunk. Hudson Bookstores, closed. Museum shop, closed. Gucci and dozens of other fancy shops, closed. I can’t help it, when I see a store dark on the other side of the window, I get mournful.
The airport and airline workers I run into are wonderful. You can see their smiles behind their masks, trying to reassure us, trying to help out, not denying the challenges but clear, firm, and comforting. It can’t be easy for them, walking down deserted concourses, passing the small passenger vehicles that are parked, empty, their drivers without riders, without tips.
They carry on bravely. United has announced that pending a major improvement in the virus control or the passage of another big relief bill for airlines, it will probably let go of 40% of its labor force as of October 1. Still they smile and offer to help you with the bag or the check-in. They’re kind with their words and generous with their time. They’re not all that busy.
Tim is taking care of Aussie in the time that I’m gone. Tim has always been a part of our packl. I’m already thinking of returning on a Sunday morning. Her head will pop out of the dog-door to see who arrived in the garage.
“You’re back! The world hasn’t ended after all!”
By the time I leave the airport in Tel-Aviv to go up to Jerusalem, I will have seen that world behind a mask for at least 16 hours. It’s easier for me, I’m not a little girl or boy like so many around me on the plane, who talk and cry and shout gleefully from behind a mask. I’m not like so many others in families here, who hope to be heard through their masks. I’m alone.
Wearing a mask this long gives one a sense of how so many others live, working and talking from behind a mask for many hours each day, knowing that with all those precautions, they’re exposed.
I will be warned at the Israeli airport to stay away from people and always, always wear a mask. My brother will be waiting for me. And when it’s just the two of us together, I think I will give him the biggest hug of my life.