There’s kindness in the air(port)!

by Avijit Banik

The Society for Neuroscience (SfN) meeting is one of the largest scientific gatherings in the world with more than thirty thousand people attending from all over the world. It is an ocean of scientific extravaganza over a period of five days where attendees struggle and juggle to navigate through vast topics of neuroscience presented by global neuroscientists. This year, it took place in Chicago and I was excited to present my data on drug discovery for Alzheimer’s disease at the Department of Pharmacology and Chemical Biology. This story is not about my scientific findings from the program but a heartwarming experience from my journey to SfN 2019.

On 19th October, I had arrived at the airport at 11am well-ahead of my 12.25 flight from Atlanta. I was travelling with my boss and I was anticipating that he would spend this time grilling me with those difficult questions about my work progress.

But God had another plan for me! After the security check we rode a train, got off at our concourse and started walking towards the boarding gate. That’s when my boss asked me a more difficult question: “Avijit, where is your luggage?!?” For a moment, I froze and asked myself, did I really have one?  I gathered myself and realized that I had my backpack and poster in my hand but not the luggage which had all my winter clothing to battle the sudden cold bites of Chicago. I recollected all the events starting from my security check and was sure that it was with me when I boarded the train. I must have left it in there. Now??? How could I get it back? The train had already left the platform; there are 7 concourses in Atlanta airport with 4 to 5 trains running between them and the rush of passengers on a Saturday morning! It would be almost impossible to find it before I had to board. Still, I didn’t want to give up!

I told my boss: “You go ahead, let me try my luck. I will see you at the boarding gate”. The clock said 11:30. I ran towards the platform and waited. As trains arrived at the platform, I jumped in and out of the coaches looking for it, but in vain. There is no sign of it! I was little nervous at that moment and started to lose hope. How would I know which train it was in? How would I know if I were looking in the right coach?

That’s when I saw an Airport employee wearing a fluorescent green vest walk past me on the platform.  I prayed to God that she might be my savior. Kathy Cook, that’s what the name tag read. She was an Airport Chaplain. I explained the situation to her, and she said calmly, “If you want to find it quickly, the best way is to check for it in the trains”.

We immediately chalked out a plan; we would search trains on either side of the platform. In the next 20 minutes, we scanned through between 18 to 20 trains, but no success! Where had it disappeared? By now, Kathy had also gotten a bit desperate. We exchanged numbers. She asked me to continue checking the trains while she headed over to the last concourse to check whether it had been removed from the train. Another 15 minutes went by as I frantically searched for it without any luck. With only 20 minutes left before departure, I finally felt it was time to head towards my boarding gate.

My heart filled with anxiety still thinking about how I could be so careless with my belongings – that’s when my cellphone started to ring. It was a call from God in the guise of Kathy Cook. I picked up and she said those three magical words to me: “I GOT IT!”, and the rest is history now. She came all the way to my gate five minutes before the flight’s departure and handed over my prized possession.

As I boarded the flight, she gave me a hug and said, “I am so glad it was there, God answered my prayer”. Later, Kathy updated me about the recovery of my luggage. She mentioned, “While I was at the information desk at concourse F, inquiring about it, a man walked up to me with your suitcase! Security advised me to take it to the police for inspection before going through the checkpoint because if anything popped up on their radar, I would be held responsible. I realized there was no time and made the decision to bypass the police and proceed through security. Your departure gate was at the far end of concourse C and I had been running to reach in time. When I finally made it to the Concourse C, I prayed for a tram. I turned the corner, and there was the tram”.

I was so amazed to see how she made my problem her own and didn’t rest until she could make it to me. Finally, she asked for a picture and we captured one of the best moments of my life! Kathy Cook was the God who answered my prayer that day. Fast forward to the next day, I presented my poster in the Windy City, with more than my clothes to keep me warm.

Avijit Banik is a Post-doctoral fellow in Thota Ganesh’s lab at Department of Pharmacology and Chemical Biology, Emory University School of Medicine.

Article pic AB

Top left: Avijit and Kathy at Atlanta Airport, concourse C, gate no. 43 just before the flight’s departure. Bottom left: Avijit with his poster at SfN2019 Chicago. Right: Avijit in front of the poster exhibition hall at SfN2019.

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