I know, I know. TSA? Really? The abominable agents of airport angst? The humorless automatons whom we meekly obey, no matter how capricious the rules, since they have the power to thwart our best laid plans? That TSA? Yes, them.

I traveled from Seattle to Los Angeles yesterday. It’s been one year since my mother passed away and I was heading to a family memorial. I was carrying her ashes.

Airport security is a little like death, if you think about it. You are divested of your earthly belongings before you pass through the gates to be judged. Will you be deemed worthy to enter? Or will there be a period of purgatory first? It’s a mystery.

I was a little nervous about it. You never know what they’ll do, even if you check the rules in advance. You are at the mercy of your particular agent and there are a million hellish stories.

I called the airline when I made my travel arrangements to see if there would be a problem. They told me I’d need a death certificate and the container would need to be scannable (not metal). She’s in a plastic box at the moment but heading to a beautiful urn my sister and her husband made. He turned the wood and she (a jeweler) made silver fittings.

I held my breath as I approached the scanning station.

When I told the agent I was carrying my mother’s ashes, the first thing he did was respectfully express condolences for my loss. Then he alerted the other agents at my station and cleared it completely so that her ashes would not be on the conveyor belt at the same time as other people’s belongings. I was surprised and also grateful for the patience of those behind me. It couldn’t have taken more than an extra minute or two. Tears pricked my eyes as we watched her little box pass out of view.

It seems a little silly, I know, making a ceremonial occasion on an x-ray scanner in a bustling airport, but it was oddly moving too — a moment of humanity in the middle of a dehumanizing process.

The agent stood vigil next to her ashes while I completed my own passage to the other side.