At the Atlanta airport yesterday I was sitting at a burger joint finishing up my meal when I heard a commotion and curiously looked up from my plate. To my surprise, there was a completely stark naked woman strolling down Delta’s B Concourse. She was screaming as she walked. Walked, not ran.
Call it instinct, but I was ready to hit the floor because in this day and age you never know what a commotion in an airport might mean for your safety. I expected to hear a thud or a thump signifying that airport security had intervened and were in the process of detaining her. I heard nothing but her continuous rant as she strolled on past our point of visibility.
Somewhere in graduate school I learned that laughter is one of people’s go-to responses when they are uncomfortable. It’s why you see television captions read, “nervous chuckle” when there’s a depiction of someone in an uncomfortable situation. So, it’s no surprise that as the scene transpired, my lunch bunch all turned to each other wide-eyed and open mouthed…and laughed.
We laughed at the incredulity of the situation. We laughed at the lack of urgency with which airport personnel seemed to be escorting this woman.
As we gathered our things and exited the restaurant, we cringed as we watched people’s reactions throughout the concourse. It became clear to us that this woman was allowed to walk a pretty far distance judging by the faces of people around us, snippets of conversation, and people huddling around phones in little pockets as we walked.
By the time we were seated at our gate, we laughed in disbelief that apparently, this woman walked the entire concourse. My main question was, “How in the world did they allow her to get so far???”
I attended Orange Conference 2017 (#OC17) this week with a team from my church; we were on our way home when this little incident took place. One of the main things I think we as people wonder in situations like this is, “Why?”
The way we figure out why in our society today is the internet. We soon discovered that the proper terminology to search online was, “Naked Lady Atlanta Airport.”
Sure enough, people had begun posting what they witnessed.
The video that came up showed this woman as she was disrobing in the middle of the walkway, her clothes and purse strewn around her. The video had about 3 seconds of R rated material before you saw a woman and man rush to bend down and pick up articles of clothing and attempt to hand them back to her. They both stood shoulder to shoulder, cocked their heads to the side and seemed to try and engage the woman as she continued to rant.
The conference theme this year was, “For Our Neighbors,” a plea for ministry leaders to approach not just ministry within the church being neighbor-minded, but to approach the rest of their lives with that mindset as well.
When the video ended, I realized that of course, I had not gained any more information about, “Why” this woman was causing a scene. I did however get a real life picture of what brokenness looks like. Then I got a real life picture of what being, for your neighbor truly meant. For that woman and that man it meant engaging in someone else’s mess and simply seeing if there is anything that can be done. It meant standing shoulder to shoulder in that endeavor, because you can’t do ministry alone. Standing shoulder to shoulder because when you do that, you also help shield that person’s mess from exploitation.
When that woman (prayerfully) regains her faculties, she’s going to be grateful for the people that stood shoulder to shoulder and blocked her mess from being broadcast, at least from that one camera phone.
As a student ministry leader I was convicted by two strangers in an airport who leaned in to a woman’s very public struggle. There was probably not a lot they could offer to the situation, but they offered what they could and in that 30 second video clip, it was enough.
Being neighbor-minded isn’t glamorous but it’s what Jesus called us to do. I’ll be the first to admit I’ve got work to do in that area.