Traffic in Los Angeles is always bad.
On this day though it seems as if all the delays that are normally spread across the city have been swept up and sprinkled solely around LAX.
The airport shuttle inches forward slowly, grabbing every piece of concrete it can secure.
A drive that should take only a couple of minutes has now lasted the better part of an hour and the terminals are still nowhere in sight.
Exhausted parents try to calm their young children. Businessmen stare at their watches.
The shuttle starts to feel like a powder keg of anxiety as the passengers quietly worry if they will make their flights.
Everyone tries their best to suppress the scream that lies just below the surface.
With each passing minute the tension becomes more and more palpable.
Then from nowhere….
It’s needed at this moment, and immediately cuts through the tension like a hot knife through butter.
The laughter is deep and heartfelt.
It comes from 3 college age girls towards the front of the bus. They talk amongst themselves and laugh more and more.
Their laughter becomes infectious and grabs my attention. It won’t let go.
I try to listen to what their saying but quickly gather that they’re not from here. I can’t figure out the language, maybe Turkish maybe Hungarian. I wish I had a better understanding of languages. But the language isn’t important. They continue to talk and laugh.
As the shuttle inches toward the airport, I start to wonder whether they are starting a trip or ending one. But as I look closer at their faces I can see the tiredness that lies on the other side of their smile. They are no longer fueled with the excitement of adventure before them, but instead filled with the satisfaction of the memories they’ve made.
Their clothing is outfitted from tourist shops across the country, and helps me to piece their journey together. An “I LOVE NY” wristband, a Statue of Liberty keychain on their luggage, a t-shirt with Chicago emblazoned across the chest, a hat with the Hollywood sign stitched across the top.
A thought enters my head and I wonder whether they had fun on their trip.
Whether they liked seeing the sites of this country.
The sites of MY country.
I suddenly feel vested in their journey, hoping that they loved this country as much as I do. Like recommending a favorite movie to a friend and wanting them to laugh and smile and cry at all the same places I did.
I’m too far away to talk to them, to ask them about their trip, but I wonder what I would want them to see. How would I show them America? How would I explain this incredible country to them?
My mind fills with images of landmarks, but I quickly dismiss them. Landmarks help to tell our history on the surface but don’t come close to explaining my love for the United States. Rattling off landmarks would be like using only my son’s hair color to try to fully describe what he means to me.
The shuttle lurches forward and I become lost in thought of how to describe the feelings I have for my country?
I imagine that if you asked a hundred people what makes this country so incredible, you would get a hundred different answers.
I think of other things that I love with all my heart, and I instantly picture my family. And as this thought passes through my head I suddenly realize that words will never be enough to fully convey this feeling. I could write everyday for the rest of my life and I would still never be able to capture what my heart knows to be true.
Describing the meaning of this country, becomes an impossible task. I am frustrated with myself, but give up on finding the perfect words to describe what it means to be an American.
As I become lost in my thoughts, time has disappeared, and I am suddenly brought back to reality as the bus pulls up to the terminal.
This isn’t my stop and my attention turns back to the girls. I watch as they lift their huge backpacks and get off the bus. Through the window I can see them still giggling, and I wish one last time that they saw the awesomeness of this country before returning to their own. I try again to formulate the perfect words in my head, but they don’t come.
I watch as one of the girls says something to her friends and they all start searching for something. They look on each other’s backpacks, and then turn their attention toward the ground. They’ve lost something and they seem panicked.
The shuttle driver starts to pull away from the curb and then suddenly slams on the brakes and hops off the bus. Through the window I see that whatever the girls had lost, the driver must have found.
The girls take a second, throw their backpacks on and head into the airport. As they do I see that the thing they had lost is now sticking out of the top of one of their backpacks. It’s a small flag made up of red stripes, white strips, and fifty little stars perfectly distributed over a blue rectangular background.
It is absolutely beautiful.
In that moment I realize that the American Flag has the power to convey all the feelings that I couldn’t in words. In that moment I know that the girls saw the America that I would want them to see.