You don't expect to be the last one standing at the luggage carousel when the flashing lights go off, the buzzing sound stops and the track stops moving and your bag is nowhere to be found. Yet, that is exactly where I found myself yesterday evening - at baggage unload area 13 (figures it would be that number) and having only one bag, not two being unloaded. Everyone around me was speaking Italian (I'm certain I had a blank look on my face whenever someone said something to me) so I was a tiny bit concerned about being heard and understood.
Nancy and I walked around the unloading area to make sure we didn't miss the bag somewhere (it was hers by the way). We decided to walk over to the baggage claim desk to see if they knew anything. Erin had been waiting outside for a long time when she decided to ask the inevitable by a text:
I responded as quickly and as shortly as I could:
I sent Nancy out with all of the baggage we had (no worries, it was all on an airport cart) to find Erin and relay to her what had happened and what I was doing. I waited patiently as four other persons were there, with the same concerned look on my face. As it came to my turn, the attendant apologized in English with a heavy Italian accent. She took down my information and told me they would do everything to locate the bag and return it to us.
As I walked outside the terminal in Rome and saw my daughter with Nancy, I kind of felt robbed. I hadn't seen her for almost two years and hoped that this moment would be special. We hugged and all the while, the specter of the missing baggage loomed in my mind. Where did it go? What happened to it? Why didn't it make it with the other bag? When (if ever) would we see it again? It put a bit of a damper on that moment, to be certain.
The two and a half hour drive from Rome to Naples was filled with conversation that took my mind off of the mystery of the missing baggage. Nothing we could do about it now. The woman at the desk mentioned they would send it to Naples Airport as soon as they located it. No time frame. Just wait for them to contact us.
The next day we called them and they had nothing to report. They asked us to fill out the missing contents report and email it back to them so they had an idea what to watch out for. I was skeptical - after all, it was a purple suitcase filled with a lot of women's clothes with Minnesota tags on it. Pretty certain there weren't too many of them floating around the baggage areas in Europe. We filled out the form and sent it back.
The day was filled with reconnecting with Erin, Josh and their boys. The temperature was a very sunny low 60's (like a heat wave to us Minnesotans) and we had a nice time. At about 5:30 p.m., we had just finished supper when Erin received a call from the airline - indeed, the missing bag was at Naples Airport! All we needed to do was go there and claim it before they closed at 8:00 p.m.. Off we went.
We got the airport after an interesting drive to get there - drivers in Italy are simply crazy, there isn't any doubt in my mind about that. Either that or they are amazingly adept at zipping here and there in their little Fiat cars without hitting each other at speeds that defy imagination. Erin and I walked in to the claim area to find a man already standing there, waiting for the window to open. He said something in broken English about having been there a long time and that someone would come. We had 50 minutes before the claims department closed for the night. I wasn't optimistic.
After a few minutes, another well-dressed Italian man came up and said something in his language and looked at me - I took my cue from Erin - I nodded and said "Ahhhh". I guess that's the response you give when you don't know what they are saying. We all pressed the button on the wall one more time and suddenly a voice came on the line telling us all to follow the blue line. Sure enough, there was a blue line on the floor that wove its way to a secure area. I had no idea what to expect.
For the next fifteen minutes people came and people went. They scanned their security badges which allowed the gates to open, giving them access in or access to leave. Pilots, flight attendants, airport employees all passed through the gates with ease. No one came to tell us about our missing bag. No one from the police desk asked us what we wanted. The four of us stood there, wondering what was next.
Finally a man came out and pointed to the first guy we met at the window. They both spoke in Italian and he was waived through the security area. The next guy who came after us jumped right in with more native words and he was allowed in. The claims officer (I'm guessing now) was ready to leave when he looked at us and said something. I looked at him and said "Ahhhhh" while showing him my claim ticket. He examined it, gave it back shaking his head. I got the impression he didn't know anything about it. He left with the other two.
So we waited another ten minutes. At last another man came forward asking for my documents. He waived me through, I gave him my passport and claim ticket. He started walking through doors, motioning me to follow. When someone has your passport and you are in a foreign land and he is walking away from you and you don't even know any of the words he is speaking, it's amazing how fast you can go to keep up with him. I saw a sign that said "Lose your passport, Lose your vacation". I was determined that was not going to be me.
We walked to an area where a host of bags of all shapes and sizes where sitting. All alone. Waiting to be claimed by their owners. How does this happen, I wonder? Of course it seems so simple to me - bag gets tagged, bag goes to the right airplane, bag gets taken off, bag is sent to the claim area, owner picks up the bag. Simple right? What could go wrong?
I will never know the answer to that question. I saw Nancy's lonely baggage sitting there waiting for me to grab it and roll it home. After a few moments of signing forms, I was directed out of the secure area. I was only too happy to oblige. Found my wife's luggage, found my vacation - that works for me.
There isn't any revelation to this story other than this: things happen, things get misplaced, things are discovered and things are returned again. It is a lot like life - things happen to us, we get misplaced or lost, we are discovered and we can be returned once again. I'm so grateful I have a faith in God that tells me that every single day, I'm never too far from being lost where God cannot find me and return me to grace once more.
I'm certain I've stood with others, looking like lost luggage, waiting for someone to claim us.