Several Hours at O'Hare Field

"To acquire knowledge one must study; but to acquire wisdom, one must observe."
Marilyn Vos Savant

I always enjoy the drama associated with airports. Whether it is the huge international Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, or a regional airport like Manchester, NH, people are always on the go with some other destination always in mind.

All of this came back to me as I sat on a steel bench halfway between the myriad of concourses at Chicago's famous O'Hare Field. I was scheduled to be there for a layover of about two hours on my way from Pennsylvania to Missouri. A huge thunderstorm extended my Chicago time by another two hours.

With time on my hands, I decided to look around and take in with all five senses the impressions from everything that was going on around me: What did I hear, see, smell, feel and taste? I couldn't write fast enough.

The sounds: People speaking other languages. Voices announcing flight information. Garbage carts rolling. "Beep beep" of shuttles moving. Babies crying. Thunder booming. Rain pelting the windows. Teenagers laughing. Business people strategizing. Men and women walking. Old clocks chiming.

Those noises joined countless others and formed a kind of humming sound like I always imagined George Orwell had in mind for that futuristic day he anticipated when machines and their sounds would dominate the world in his classic novel 1984.

The sights: People moving slowly and people running. People with canes and wheelchairs and baby carriages. People which white faces and black faces and people with faces of every shade in between. People dressed up and people dressed down. People with shorts and long pants, burkas and turbans, scarfs, umbrellas and uniforms.

I saw plastic bags, carrying bags, purses, suitcases, briefcases and just about every kind of electronic gadget imaginable. Some were drinking coffee, carrying a water bottle or eating McDonald's French fries. Even the airport architecture and décor caught my eye.

The smells: Actually, as I focused on the smells, I realized there were not that many. Every now and then I got a whiff of coffee or a hamburger, or perfume/cologne.

But if you have ever been in a crowd of people at a baseball game or in a concert hall or even on an airplane, each group has its own distinct smell. I don't know if I could tell the difference with my eyes closed but the smell of people in the O'Hare Airport does have its unique aroma.

The feelings: Other than my own feelings, the only way I could sense the feelings of people around me was by the looks on their faces. The middle aged couple who sat next to me for about fifteen minutes seemed happy as they warmly visited together. On the other hand, little children seemed annoyed when parents insisted on holding their hands.

High anxiety seemed to dominate a number of people who glanced at the monitors as they ran past me. During the severe thunderstorm you could feel the disappointment for delayed flights and the fear as lightning struck nearby.

The taste: The only taste I could report came from the grapes and fresh peas I brought at the fresh produce kiosk. Of course, the skinny tall caramel macchiato from Starbucks had a flavor all its own, too.

I did see people eating pizza and ice cream and fruit and hamburgers, but I guess you would have to ask them how it tasted.

The time then came for me to board my plane and make my way to my final destination. How enriched our lives can be as we open our eyes to really experience all that is going on around us.

The next time you are in a doctor's office or waiting in traffic or just sitting on your back porch, stop. You may be surprised what you hear, see, smell, feel and taste.

Think about it.

Dr. Don Meyer is President of
Valley Forge Christian College, Phoenixville, PA
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