Having traveled mostly on my own for 32 years, you would think I would have it down. But I don't. Certainly I don't since 9/11.

I can remember driving up to the airport in Toledo, Ohio, and saying "hi" to the porter, whom I knew by name. I would follow him into the building toward the desk, where, after handing my ticket to the agent, "Mrs. Stranahan" would be headed toward her plane.

When I moved to Long Island, most of my departures were from New York, and, although there were thousands more people and longer lines, the moves were essentially the same: Check in, go to gate. No long roped queues, no removal of clothes, no X-ray machines. We just got on the plane. It's a memory I want to hang on to. I want to remember how life was when I walked alone into an airport, full of easy, relaxed confidence and some excitement about flying somewhere.

Conditions have made me sick of traveling, especially traveling by myself. Nowadays, when the driver drops me off at JFK, I turn toward the multi-entranced building with a kind of dread. I have a feeling of abandonment, severe disconnect, as if I were suddenly unplugged from home base and left dangling. A sense of jeopardy, like a grey fog, wraps itself around me.

In defense against this debilitating vulnerability, I pull way into myself. I realize how strange that sounds, but it's true. Entering the bustling, teeming building, I tuck so far inside myself, exactly the way a snail pulls into its shell when you poke at it, that I end up feeling numb, shadow-like and not quite real. It is in this numbed-out, not-there state that I maneuver myself into the layers of roped queues.

The last trip I made -- a few weeks ago, from JFK to Florida -- in the line, I had dropped sufficiently into my blurred-out condition that I failed to notice a security man signaling and calling to me to come to his available station. The woman behind me gave me a nudge, and I moved forward toward his waving hand, stopping in front of him and handing him my passport, something I find easier to deal with than my driver's license.

He was African American and well into his sixties. Glasses worn slightly down his nose, a lightly greying mustache. He opened my passport, looked at it, then looked up at me -- as they do to see if you really are you -- and looked down again.

"Cecily," he said, looking up again right into my eyes and smiling, "We don't get many of those."

I was flabbergasted.

He had really seen me? He had said my name? The fog around me lifted as if a fresh spring breeze had blown through. He had propelled me into "the pure land of the present moment," as the Buddhists would call it. I smiled back at him, looking straight into his twinkling brown eyes.

"And you got it right the very first time!" I cheered. "Most people don't."

He grinned and handed back my passport. "Have a nice flight," he said with another wide smile.

The fog gone, the numbness ended. I was catapulted into the present.

"Wake up!" My Buddhist teacher used to shout. "Be where you are!"

I am, I thought. I am here. Now.

Thanks to one very awake security person in this vast airport I was having fun.

Cecily Stoddard Stranahan is a psychotherapist, retired and an interfaith minister. She can be reached at openingup@optonline.net.