Even seasoned mindfulness practitioners have lapses. I have a new mantra – “P K W: Phone, Keys, Wallet.” This, recommended by my 21-year-old daughter, who’d picked it up from a series she watched called, “Broad City.” After flying from Spain to Brussels late one night, we walked to the baggage claim area, through a highly secure gateway with green lights and glass doors. I removed my heavy backpack, put down my parcel from the duty-free shop, with the souvenirs for my nieces, and realized, with an adrenalized rush, I was without my purse at 11 pm.
Immediately, I bolted. Back down the stairs against the rising tide of disembarking passengers and through the first security door into the clear glass passageway that was wide enough for only one person. The buzzers alarmed, the green lights turned red. The doors shut. One other traveler, who was just entering, got his luggage caught in the doors as he took a quick step back. There I was, trapped, waiting to see what would happen next. Would police come? Would the doors reopen?
I discovered the doors would only reopen when the sensor detected forward movement. Other passengers alerted me to this fact. Reluctantly, with resignation, I turned to exit. The light turned green and the doors reopened. I went with the flow, away from my intended target and towards uncertainty. What would I do now? Several travelers more seasoned than I told me it was impossible to return to the tarmac. I sent up a prayer to my Helpers of Traveling, to Archangel Michael for protection and anyone else who was listening – “Please help me with the safe return of my purse – please help me resolve this situation quickly.”
Back in baggage claim, I tapped an employee on the shoulder and she pointed me to an obscure office window, tucked almost out of sight. The attendant, a woman, was helping 3 other people fill out forms and file claims. I struggled with my patience. Time ticked slowly as my mind raced. “Should I interrupt and tell her it’s urgent, shall I ask the woman in front of me if I could go first?” I decided to submit to the process as it was unfolding so as not to create negative energy by being pushy or letting the panic seep out.
I kept visualizing my new brown leather purse, which I had bought with this trip in mind – large enough to hold what I would need, but not too bulky, heavy enough so I would be more aware if I’d left it behind, as I have been known to do. I saw it in my mind’s eye, lying inconspicuously on the floor, under the aisle seat directly in front of mine. I imagined the nice stewardesses doing their final sweep, personally bringing it to the baggage area, back to its desperate owner.
Of course, while waiting, my inner banter kept spiraling into judgment, shame and fear. “How could I have been so unaware – myself a mindfulness instructor!” “I made sure I grabbed the souvenir bag, but not my purse.” “What would I do without my passport, money, credit cards, and smart phone?” I wondered what my daughter thought of me. Old shreds of my internalized critical parental voice emerged: “Irresponsible, immature, naïve Lisa.” I felt so child-like with only a thin veneer of adulthood pasted on the outside.
Then I let it all go, focused on my immediate task, breathing and partnering with the Unknown. I marveled at how much time this woman clerk spent with each person at her window. I noticed her right hand had a fine tremor, as her writing paused – perhaps from fatigue, hunger, or stress. I appreciated the fact she patiently explained each step to the woman in front of me. I hoped she would extend the same thoroughness and patience toward me.
Twenty minutes later, my turn finally came. I asked if she could call someone to search the plane. She firmly told me, “The plane is locked – there is no one to call.” So final and uncompromising! I asked what I should do next. She handed me a piece of paper with a phone number on it and said I could call at 8 am to inquire whether it turned up. I was supposed to walk away – without any promise, reassurance, or hopeful exchange. “Would it be ok to wait and see if any staff bring it up?” She said it was unlikely that they would.
Wearily, we waited, until baggage claim emptied out. The carousels stopped moving. I kept hoping to hear footsteps and see a familiar, smiling stewardess emerge from the stairwell, holding my purse. The security guard came and informed us we must vacate.
“Do the flight crews leave through this area,” I asked? He replied they did not – they took a different route. Disappointed, we left, and headed to the airport hotel I had reserved. I struggled with my confidence in the Universe – was it cold, impersonal, unfeeling, or able to be mobilized in favor of my preferences? Did my little struggle really matter in the vastness of all that is? I imagined the quantum field, being tweaked in my direction – to resolve the situation – purse in hand once again, by tomorrow morning.
At the hotel, I went to sleep after midnight, resolved to awaken earlier than 8 am to resume the process. As my eyes opened at 6:30 a feeling of heaviness and worry regained its foothold. The “what ifs” flooded back into my awareness. I showered, drank some water and walked shakily to the front desk to inquire about using their phone.
The receptionist was very accommodating. I called the number on the slip of paper. It was 7 am and a man answered. He was not a baggage claim employee – but a security officer. He said he could take my information and email it to the baggage claim office. Afterward, he said, “It is rare that someone’s personal effects are returned.” He gave no false hope, no reason to trust in human nature, as much as I wanted to.
I walked back to our room and researched what to do when one loses their passport and personal effects, while travelling abroad. The first step was to file a police report if one intends to make a claim on their trip insurance. At least I had insurance. So I consulted with my sleepy daughter, and formed my plan. I would first go to the airport and see if, face-to-face, I could get any airline employee to assist me. I hoped to at least find out if the plane we had arrived on was still there, and whether anyone could perform a search. If nothing could be done, I’d take a cab to the Charleroi police station and hope to speak with someone whose English was better than my rusty French.
As I again approached the hotel receptionist to request a shuttle to the airport, she cheerfully informed me that baggage claim had just called. “Your purse has been returned, Madam.” Instantly reduced to wordless weeping, I was simultaneously flooded with gratitude, uplifted by some stranger’s kindness. Enroute to the airport, it occurred to me that my purse could be empty. I braced myself for this possibility.
Once there, I asked the driver if he could wait 15 minutes and he shook his head. “Dix minutes,” and showed me 10 fingers. Taking this as an opportunity to burn off some adrenaline, I walked swiftly to the baggage claim office hoping there would be no line.
The window was closed – occluded with paper. I knocked on the glass. A fresh-faced woman answered and I said, “Bonjour, je m’appelle Lisa Love.” She smiled, held up her index finger and went to retrieve my purse. When she returned, she asked for my ID, which was intact, in my wallet, still in my purse, along with my passport, mobile phone, credit cards and $600 dollars! All were still there, miraculously. The only thing missing was 50 Euros. I asked who I could thank for its safe return. She replied, “I do not know who returned it.” I grabbed her hand and squeezed it, thanking her heartily.
In my mind, we had just become participants in a miracle. How had my request been granted? I was flooded with warm feelings toward humanity. 50 Euros was easy to part with, in exchange for the safe return of my identity, phone and cash. Plus it saved me the hassle of going to the precinct, then the embassy to be reissued a temporary passport. We would have missed our train to Trier, Germany, leaving at 10 am that morning. I would have had to rely on my daughter’s money and return to the States with my self-image in shreds.
Returning to our room to share the news with my daughter, she said, “Mom, didn’t I tell you before you left for the airport that I had a dream it was returned?” It was as if she already knew it would all work out.
I sent gratitude to the forces at play that conspired on our behalf overnight and early that morning. The Universe is a place of kindness – but one needs to ask for help and let go of attachment to the outcome or the way that help appears.
PKW stands for phone, keys, wallet. Now it also stands for Prayer, Kindness, and Wonder (& sometimes weeping). From now on, I will use this mantra at every transition – P K W. I will inwardly smile at my daughter’s resilience and her words – “Mom, it’ll work out. Don’t focus on the past.” And when I falter again, I will remember the other, equally important PKW.