My new year, new decade ritual just ended. I watched the movie "Love, Actually" for about the 10th time.
This time, I caught the beginning, the very beginning, the first words spoken in the film over the opening credits by the actor Hugh Grant. It is just a brief opening, filled with a wide variety of people greeting new arrivals at one of the world's great airports.
But I thought how appropriate these words are as we enter this new decade. I want to share them with you at the risk of sounding sappy:
"Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world," Grant begins, "I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion's starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don't see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often its not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it's always there: father and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know, none of the phone calls from the people onboard were messages of hate or revenge -- they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I've got a sneaky feeling you'll find that love actually is all around."
In the film, you will recall, Grant plays the newly elected prime minister of England. His observation led me to think about visits I had made to airports in my life a few times with no one to meet and no travel in my plans.
I just wanted the atmosphere, the idea of people reconnecting and departing one another's lives. I somehow thought that arrivals gates are a particularly good place to hang out if you fancy yourself a writer or have a strong interest in examples of the strength and essential goodness of the human spirit.
Something about Grant's character's words, heard again during a particularly negative news cycle, led me to drive out to the airport yesterday.
I walked around the busiest arrivals gates watching all sorts of greetings, big giant hugs off a Texas flight and a quiet arrival from a plane just landed from Dusseldorf. I started counting tears, and I had to stop because there were far too many, and the really great thing about it was that almost all of them were tears of joy.
It was the holiday season, so many of the greetings were reunions of a kind. It was a privilege standing there watching it all.
"Love, Actually" is not the kind of film from which one might expect to draw life lessons or even insights into what is touching or meaningful. But the first 30 seconds of the film, the words spoken by Hugh Grant, may contain any number of truisms worth noting and remembering.
Given what we do for a living and our need to make our clients aware of strategies and ways to beat the system, we seldom think of airports as places where we can see some of the best examples of love and the human spirit.
This is my first column for a new decade. It is going to be a year filled with rancor and political and social challenges. We will, at times, question the human condition. We will wonder why there isn't more love and compassion in this world we help others navigate. Perhaps it might be wise to think about the arrivals area at Heathrow or your nearest airport and the human dramas of love and compassion that play out there minute by minute.