Like most major airports, Toronto’s Pearson International divides the arrivals area from the departures so that one is a level above the other. I have passed through both of them hundreds of times and have made this observation: The upper level is a place of sorrow while the lower level is a place of celebration. The upstairs departures area is distinguished by family members weeping and saying farewell, the downstairs arrivals area by family members waving and hugging and crying out their welcomes.
Families often immigrate to Canada in stages. The first family members are often young and single, drawn to Canada by its universities or entry-level jobs. After a few years they journey back to their homelands and return with a spouse to begin a family of their own. Over time their siblings make the journey, then their parents and even grandparents as the families gain the means and ability to sponsor them. One-by-one or two-by-two they leave their former land behind and settle into a new country, a new home, until almost the whole family is once again reunited.
I have often paused to observe the reaction of a family when a loved one walks through the sliding double doors that partition the secure area of the airport from the public. The person walks through those doors and a cry of excitement erupts from the family gathered below. The traveler runs down the long ramp with arms wide open and is soon smothered in the arms of parents, children, aunts, uncles, friends. They shout out their cries of welcome and hand over great bouquets of flowers. Some dance, some sing, some weep with the joy of it all. It’s a lovely sight to see, a powerful scene to behold.
The longer we live in this world, the greater the number of loved ones who emigrate from it to settle above. The longer our lives extend, the more we see our friends and family members set out for the distant shores of heaven. We spend much time on the “departures level,” bidding sad farewells to people we have known and loved, people we have cared for and admired. There are many heartbreaks, many tearful farewells.
Over time we come to realize that there are now fewer here than there, fewer behind than ahead. Knowing we have fewer people to bid us farewell and many more to greet us eases the pain of departure and enhances the joy of arrival. Departing is difficult when all the people we love are being left behind, but arriving is easy when we are joining a throng of those we have loved and lost.
The daughter whose mother is in heaven departs this earth eager to be with her, to see her again. The mother whose daughter is in heaven can hardly wait to arrive and feel those precious arms around her neck once more. Friends long to be reunited with friends, brothers with brothers, sisters with sisters.
Each understands that all of these losses have served to loosen their hearts from earth and set them in heaven. Each eagerly anticipates entering that blessed land, for they know that the pain of departure will be by far surpassed by the joy of arrival. Each acknowledges that when the time comes to depart earth and arrive in heaven, they may find themselves unable to move for the throng of people waiting to meet them, to greet them, to welcome them home.
Inspired in part by De Witt Talmage.