DTW Detroit Michigan Airport is civilized at 9:00 AM on Christmas Eve day, Dec. 24th, 2015. Terminal A is fairly quiet, no one is freaking out or crazily running to catch a flight. A lot of airport staff are moving about in clusters, chatting with each other about hospital visits and annoying bosses.

I have a 4 hour layover, so after cruising the food choices, I decide on Longhorns restaurant, not least because they are playing one Motown hit after the next on a satellite radio service. The Claassic Breakfast is two eggs, biscuit, hash browns, bacon or sausage. Outside the enormous west-facing windows, the rising sun illuminates the space between the A and B terminals over the tunnel, where Delta jets taxi in and out like graceful solo skaters. Every few seconds a clean, crisp Delta jet leaps off the runway just beyond, into the cloudless morning sky, into the southerly wind. The jets escalate swiftly, just like all things that fly.

DTW tunnel Screen ShotEarlier, a tiny girl trailing her mother attempted the down escalator to cross the tunnel from B to A terminal. On her back she carried the obligatory overstuffed backpack. Her slightly older brother was several strides ahead of her, and ahead of them both, already on the way down, was their mother, a roller board suitcase in each hand, and another large backpack on her own back. Escalators still alarm me, I remember when I was this little girl’s age, the risk of falling or worse, the nervousness of my own parents, being forced to choose the terrible second when you must step onto the moving stair, the visual disorientation – where do the strairs come from, where do they go? – the sound that the escalator makes, rumbling, clicking, whirring, sometimes screeching. Terrifying.

The tiny girl hesitates. I am right behind her, anticipating this very thing and ready to assist. She steps down, not holding onto the handrail, loses her balance, stoops, and begins to cry quietly. Mom is unconcerned, or not showing it. “C’mon, she chirps, “Let’s go.”

I gently grasp the girl’s upper arm with my left hand, saying, “You’re OK.” She is crying but not too hopefully, looking at her feet, at the stair she is half on, half off. We are descending. A man on the parallel stair is also descending. He reaches over the divide, touching her shoulder with his big hand and says loudly, “You’re OK, you’re ok,” repeating it because the tiny girl is not convinced. Slowly she reaches up with her left hand to hold the handrail. “Good job,” I say. She continues to cry quietly. “C’mon, we gotta go,” says mom, looking back over her shoulder, getting ready to step off at the bottom.

The girl’s brother watches from a few stairs down between mother and sister, a bridge between them. At the bottom, he hops off, turns to watch her. All the adults nearby are ready to intercede. But we know she has to learn the escalator rules, to conquer her escalator fears. We remember.

The cloudless Detroit sky absorbs all birds leaping up and curving away, going everywhere. Diana Ross sings, Set me free, why dontcha babe. All Green sings, Let me know that love is really real.