Love and Loss at the Airport Lost and Found

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Actress and writer Annabelle Gurwitch offers this commentary about how her attempt to retrieve a lost belt from airport security led her to get more than she expected.

Ms. ANNABELLE GURWITCH (Actress and writer): The anthropologist Victor Turner devoted much of his life to articulating his theory of liminality - the idea that we attempt to create arbitrary boundaries that divide our time and experience between the sacred and the profane.


It's actress and DAY TO DAY contributing writer Annabelle Gurwitch.

Ms. GURWITCH: In Turner's liminal time, we are bound by different rules and customs that don't apply in everyday life. His area of study was native ritual and performance. The same notion of liminality can of course be applied to our modern life. And this is what was on my mind yesterday as I headed out to the Burbank Airport.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. GURWITCH: There are certain times in your life when every normality is suspended. Things you do in Vegas, things you do on New Year's Eve, and things that happen when you fly. The normally staid businessman who consumes several Bloody Marys at 11:00 AM, swigging away just because he's on a plane, or how once an extremely tony woman confessed the intimate details of an affair she was having just because she was on a plane. Or my own embarrassing obsession with tabloids that I indulge in only when I'm on a plane.

But today, I wasn't getting on a plane. I was going to the lost and found to see if they had a belt that I had left there. Like millions of Americans shedding clothing and personal objects since the tightening of airport security, at times I have walked out of the checkpoint without some of the things I walked in with. So it was not surprising to find out that everyone I talked to had lost something in an airport.

Unidentified Female #1: I left a medicine case on the plane.

Unidentified Man: I had a letter opener that my son gave me that I had to leave behind.

Unidentified Female #2: I lost a Pashmina scarf once.

Ms. GURWITCH: And had any of these folks attempted to retrieve their possessions? Well, no. None of them even knew there was a lost and found at the airport, and once I finally found it, I wasn't even allowed to go in.

On an official phone outside the building, I spoke with the several police officers who man the post. And when I asked about my belt and confessed that I had left it in November, that's last year, they were apoplectic. It turns out they only hold personal items for 30 to 60 days before they are donated to charity. Now this doesn't apply to the things like scissors and nail files that the TSA considers surrendered items, and is free to dispose of or sell at their whim. But the Lost and Found doesn't get a lot of traffic. Even people who call to find out that yes, we have your keys or your phone or the ring that your grandmother gave you - just don't come back to get them. One of the only exceptions, they told me, was a cache of adult toys that someone had come to claim almost immediately. And why don't people come back? As if confirming Turner's theory of liminality, when I asked the Pashmina gal where she thought her scarf had gone, she said...

Unidentified Female #2: I just gave it up to the airport gods, I guess.

(Soundbite of walking)

Ms. GURWITCH: As I walked back to my car empty-handed, I thought about how much time we spend acquiring things and keeping track of things and trying to hold on to things. But in that liminal time in the airport, somehow, everything becomes clearer - the meaninglessness of possessions, how replaceable things really are. And I wonder how different the world would be if we traveled through life with that equanimity. And then I hiked up my pants. I was, after all, sans a belt, and I exited the artificial boundary that separates airport from real life, and I drove back into the materialism of my non-liminal world.

(Soundbite of music)

CHADWICK: Writer and actress Annabelle Gurwitch.

(Soundbite of music)

CHADWICK: DAY TO DAY's a production of NPR News with contributions from I'm Alex Chadwick.


And I'm Madeleine Brand.

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