Beyond Words
(Marshall’s column from February 2012 issue of Nashville Arts Magazine)

There’s something liberating about letting yourself fall apart and letting someone else – preferably a stranger – pick up the pieces. I have experienced this twice, once in a Hertz parking lot in Los Angeles and the other in Terminal 2 at the Mexico City International Airport.

I have a name for this phenomenon: Sit-down breakdown. In other words, you become so distraught you can no longer stand, so you simply drop everything and hit the floor.

My most recent sit-down breakdown occurred last month.

I was on the west coast of Mexico when I received word my husband had fallen ill while attending a medical conference in Boston. Chris and I have been together more than twenty years, and in that time, I can recall him having two – maybe three – colds. Not even bronchitis. Just the sniffles. I have always marveled at his stamina, attributing his good health to years of practicing medicine. Being around the sick had somehow inoculated him from disease.

So when I heard he was having health concerns, it was a no-brainer. I was on the next flight out.

I admit I had not slept well the night before. Also, this was my first time changing planes in Mexico City. I consider myself a seasoned traveler, okay? Plus, I am getting so I can understand Spanish. However, nothing could have prepared me for the chaos of changing fights at Aeropuerto Internacional de la Ciudad de México Benito Juárez.

After disembarking my flight from Puerto Vallarta, I began walking for what seemed like miles, all the while lugging my guitar and carry-on. I’ll spare you the details, but after many twists and turns and misdirections, I suddenly found myself faced with going through security a third time. And that’s when I lost it. My knees buckled as I crumpled to the floor. With forehead resting on my guitar case, I began sobbing uncontrollably.

After what seemed like a very long time, a uniformed woman appeared. She did not speak English, but she looked at me like, Are you okay? All I could manage between heaving sobs was, Mi esposo … mi esposo … Mi esposo está enfermo! Necessito ir a mi casa! I can’t recall what all happened after that. All I know is she was very kind, as she miraculously escorted me to my gate in time for my flight.

Unlike Blanche DuBois, I do not make a habit of depending on the kindness of strangers. Maybe it’s rare, but there are some Good Samaritans out there. So why not give them a chance to show compassion? It might help you get where you’re going.