(The Hamilton Spectator – Saturday, April 22, 2016)
BRUSSELS-ZAVENTUM AIRPORT ✦ Once upon a time (otherwise known as “the old days,”) people would watch news on their old televisions, or listen on their old radios, or pick up old newspapers that even landed on their front porches (remember front porches?) with a thud.
They’d learn of crime and passion and war and natural disasters and children starving in Africa and jackpot wins and bankruptcies and more, bleary-eyed by the millions. They’d even talk with the neighbours and wonder if any of it, besides the weather report or the ads for the latest sandwich bread, had any meaning for their own lives. Often enough, it did not.
Now there’s the new news, still consumed bleary-eyed by the millions but now carried in your pocket. The headlines are of your new haircut or your new love or your new anything that you hope might interest at least someone, head-in-screen, even while you fear that, in fact, nobody cares in the least.
Even the experts don’t know exactly where the old news or the new news will end up. I personally try not to make too big a deal of either. My own experience is rooted in the one, but I see at least some value in the other: after all, we each have just one life to live and wouldn’t it be a shame to go through it all without recording anything?
I’m ruminating on it while in transit through Brussels, at the airport, yes, that Brussels airport, where 32 people were recently killed by terrorists, which, in deference to the old news and the old way of presenting it, you likely know all about.
In deference to the new, you might be interested to know that, outside, the sun is rising over a tarmac strewn with passenger jets. Inside, the lineups to get your Belgian chocolate or specialty coffee (order it in Dutch, Flemish, French, German or English) are remarkably short.
This is because this airport, barely reopened, is running at only quarter capacity.
There’s a young couple nearby, him with feet up, her with head back. Other people are also lying around, barefooted if not blanketed, draped in one fashion or another over the cushions of this atrium lounge.
Otherwise, much of this airport feels cavernous. The few faces behind the trolleys and counters are what you’d find in any crossing-point that’s so cosmopolitan; outside the airport more than half of Belgium’s residents have roots elsewhere.
Some military police with German Shepherds have strolled by.
Notwithstanding, maybe, the dogs, this is some of the nothing news what you might find at any airport, people arriving from one place and going to another. Some are thrilled, others are jet-lagged and discombobulated, while others surely carry some fear.
Which is to say that however you define the news, you can go through any old airport one day and (by very small chance) be killed by some terrorist bomb. Or you can go through the same airport on another day (by far, most other days) and still be reminded of the same thing, that life — whatever large or mundane things may be unfolding in yours — is precious, if not short.
Yes, even in our most inconsequential moments, we’re each living even as we’re each dying. It’s only a question of degree and speed.
Not only this, but we each have our own stories, that is our own crimes and passions and wars and disasters and hungry children and jackpot wins and bankruptcies and more. In this we’re each part of a larger story — His Story — some would say. And in this, strangely enough, we each also are a living, walking story ourselves.
It seems to me, then, that any media (old, new or middle-aged with a spread) that helps us arrive at these realizations is media that is worth at least something.
Yes, once upon a time there was the news. It got old. Then the young, hipster news showed up. That’s all interesting enough.
But once upon a time, also, there was you. And me. We were travellers, here one moment, a memory the next.
Some days we had the good fortune to sit at a crossing point to think more about it.