Dr Hinemoa Elder
Making your connection at the airport, and in life
Airports. I find them strangely fascinating. People coming and going, arriving and departing, waiting, a sense of direction. Displacement, escape, refuge, expectations of something better, holidays, work, asylum. So many stories.
There is a weird sense of trust, a kind of magical thinking, that eventually you get to where you are going. And at the same time there is a certain stress in the air.
Above all, identity is currency. You need evidence of who you are, where you are from and where you are going. That and waiting, you have to be ready to wait.
Airports are not home. And they are not where you are going to end up. We might assume nobody lives there, but that’s not quite true. There is a Brazilian man who has been living at Sao Paulo International airport for the last 17 years or so. Wikipedia describes him as a having ‘‘psychological problems’’. He apparently took refuge at the airport because of conflict at home. I wonder about the idea of the airport itself as a long-term refuge.
Again, like life, not to stretch the analogy too much, it’s fair to say we are all experiencing degrees of psychological difficulties at home, just like the man at Sao Paulo airport. You could point to evidence that the current ‘‘airport of life’’ looks like it was designed to promote distress and disharmony. And we are not immortal. Eventually we have to get on the flight, we have to leave the departure lounge.
I have a photo of our Mum and me at an airport. I think it must be Auckland. She brought me home to meet the whanau. From Herekino to Tauhei, La Jolla, Cambridge, Manchester and Ta¯ maki. She passed through a few airports in her time. So I think about our Mum in airports and I think about her life and her passing. It was 27 years ago, when I was pregnant with my son. There is a sad pattern there, because her Mum, my grandmother, also died of breast cancer, when Mum was pregnant with me. Yes, I know, I get my mammograms and so far so good, thanks for that.
I’m now at the age when my mother got sick and died. Our Mum was ‘‘taken’’, as they say, far too young. You could say her flight out of here was rescheduled. She was put on an earlier flight. It feels so wrong. She was so full of life. She played basketball for Vic, she loved rock and roll dancing, she used to roller blade to her hospital appointments at Greenlane. She would bring cut up carrots and celery to school when she picked us up. This was in inner city Manchester where all the other kids had Curly Wurlys. I was so envious. Now I realise she was way ahead of her time. The only person in her wha¯ nau to go to university. She could draw a horse free-hand, that actually looked like a horse. For someone who was so healthy, so alive, it is just so wrong to go on the early flight.
The best thing about airports is the cuddles, kisses and the tears, the outpouring of real emotion, reminders of how much we love others and how much we will miss them, the appreciation of being dropped off and picked up, of being connected to people outside of the airport. Let’s make the most of that connection, those moments. You never know if your flight may have been rescheduled.
And before I forget, can we all stop saying how busy we are please? More on that another time.
Child and adolescent psychiatrist Hinemoa Elder PhD is a Fellow of the Royal Australia NZ College of Psychiatrists, and Professor of Indgenous Health Research at Te Whare Wa¯ nanga o Awanuia¯ rangi, and Ma¯ ori strategic leader at Brain Research NZ.
Waiho i te toipoto, kaua i te toiroa. Let us keep close together, not far apart.
I think of Mum when I’m at airports – and here’s the two of us. Auckland, I think, when she brought me home to meet the whanau.