Postcard from the war's edge
Reflections from the airport and why the war goes wherever you do
It’s 4:30 in the morning. I’m at the Krakow airport, not yet caffeinated and second in line to check in. In front of me is a man, probably in his twenties. He’s standing at the counter with a large white dog, lying at his feet, and two animal crates, one containing a cat.
The trio is headed to Dublin, via Amsterdam. The airline agent asks the guy for all kinds of paperwork. He is visibly stressed, rifling through his bag for the required documents. Out comes a dog bowl and a bag of dog food.
The agent announces she needs to step away and make a photocopy of one of his documents. The spoiled impatient American in me is rolling my eyes and starting to fret.
The agent returns several minutes later. She needs more documentation.
They have words.
“But I am from Ukraine,” he said.
But he is from Ukraine, I say to myself, and this is why this is a shit show of a check in.
But for this young man, this is the war rippling into the Krakow airport like pounding rain rushing into a gutter. This is the war that goes with him wherever he goes, just like the Jon Kabat-Zinn aphorism, wearing his heart on his dog hair-covered jacket sleeve, with no possession other than that dog bowl in the knapsack. This is the war that never sleeps and lives until someone makes it fucking stop.
Another agent motions me to the adjacent desk. While she checks me in, I walk over to him, where I see all the dog hairs up close.
I wish you all the best.
Thank you. I’m going to need it. His eyes got leaky.
I went back to my regularly scheduled program of being an American with preferred seating and my only concern that I have time for a cup of coffee before boarding.
I’m in 3F, a window seat on the right side of the plane, the same side as the cargo hold. I watch the baggage handlers loading bags. A few minutes later, a station wagon arrives. The dispatcher opens the hatchback and loads two animal crates onto the belt. It’s the big white dog and its feline companion. The dog is visibly shaking.
At the beginning of this trip, I introduced you to Marek, my introduction to Poland. He’s the one who taught me that “the war is here.” As I put in my ear plugs and readied myself for a transatlantic jouney back to the States, I hear Marek’s words.
The war is here.
In a cargo hold.
In this pressurized cabin about to take off for Amsterdam. And in Dublin, where this young man and his companions will land for who knows how long.
Wherever we go there we are, and for as long as the senseless war continues, so too does it pack a bag. We must not forget, even when we get weary of headlines. We must not un-see the dog hairs on the black jacket at the airline counter. We must hold space for as long as it takes.