Over the Thanksgiving Holiday, my family had a ‘first time’ family experience. Our life-long family friends, of over 60+ years, were celebrating a family wedding on the Saturday after Thanksgiving in Auburn, Alabama; we have participated as an extension of this dear family and their special celebrations for literally 60 years. Thus, for the first time in our lives, we boarded a plane on Thanksgiving Day.
That travel day was a dream (despite what one may expect); as the crowds were very slim and the traffic virtually non-existent. My folks are 88 and soon-to-be 87 ‘young’ and are in a word: troopers. Yet, for those you who have flown into Atlanta, you know that particular airport is not for the fainthearted; and it can be even more challenging when you fly Southwest Airlines…as you are a mere 4 train stops from baggage claim! And of course, if you rent a car (which one must, if you are traveling onto Auburn), you have another train ride to the rental car hub. This travel experience gives new meaning to the adage ‘planes, trains and automobiles’. Needless to say, my folks were aided by wheelchairs….another first for our family, and one that (if you know my parents) was met with hesitant disdain, yet a necessity given the MILES we traveled once we were off the plane! And, we all know the TSA experience can be hit or miss – despite the fact that we were all TSA pre-check and Global Entry approved. Thus, our travel experiences going to Auburn and coming back to Dallas the Sunday after Thanksgiving were rich in people watching and the ‘random encounters’ which changed our lives. (Just like I wrote about in book #1 in the Is This Seat Taken? book series). My mom, dad, sister, and I were touched by many with whom we met; and thus, I felt compelled to write about this experience and highlight a few of the ‘angels among us’ and the lessons which were reinforced over those travel days.
Love is the glue. Upon arrival at Dallas Love Field to begin our trip, we were greeted by the first, of 4 sets of wheelchair attendants over the course of the weekend. The heavy-set frame, false eyelash and ruby-red lipstick bearing face, oozed love and care. She and I had the opportunity to visit for several minutes, and it was clear she loved people. She was working an 8 hour shift on Thanksgiving Day, and yet, her smile and energy was nothing short of angelic. She was calm and collected; and trust me – when you have 6 pieces of checked luggage, full of formal gowns, tuxedos, etc. AND you are juggling elderly parents – having someone meet you with a ‘take charge’ yet gentle demeanor is nothing short of a miracle. Love was the glue.
Enthusiasm and care are universal languages; and patience truly is a virtue. Every single one – EVERY single one – of the wheelchair teams we met over the weekend and were fortunate to have steward us through the airports, were passionate and enthusiastic about their jobs. YES – enthusiastic – about wheeling my parents, collecting our luggage, navigating the crowds through the terminals, trains, and even to the rental car hub which was another train ride away! They were jovial, interested in us, and sincerely CARED about my parents and our overall well-being. This is not a simple job. I pushed my father on one leg of the trip – and it is NOT easy to navigate crowds, trains, elevators, etc. while pushing a full luggage cart, as well. Yet, these men and women did so with a smile. They were never negative. Never. They never lost their patience. Even when we arrived at the rental car location and the rental car company (which will go nameless) had RUN OUT OF CARS (despite having a reservation made well in advance and verified that morning!)….they stayed with us as we attempted to get another large SUV to rent. (Hats off, by the way, to the AMAZING gentleman at Hertz who was another angel – whom I ‘met’ through the virtual Kiosk. He saved our bacon – literally.) The two men from Ethiopia who shepherded us upon arrival that night from the plane to the rental car garage – were two of the most caring and optimistic men we met that weekend.
Control is a mirage. We are not in control of anything that happens to us. Period. As my father says, we are only in control of how we respond to our situation. We control our ‘ABC’s’….our attitude, our behavior, and our choices. We don’t control the TSA agent who overzealously made my 88-year-old father get out of the wheelchair, take off his shoes, etc. despite being authorized for pre-check AND being given the ‘approval’ to stay seated in the wheelchair. Yet, my father, graciously and patiently did what was asked of him…..as did my mother. (Note to self: always tell the TSA agents, when a person is traveling in a wheelchair, that they cannot walk – otherwise they will (and do) force them through the calisthenics which should be reserved for those of us who are more agile.) Yet, my parents smiled through the entire experience; and their attitudes continue to be admirable and serve as exemplary role models for my sister and me.
A sense of humor is the music to which we can dance. Our last wheelchair attendant, Cedric, met us in Atlanta the Sunday after Thanksgiving. His demeanor touched us all to the core. As my father would say: ‘He could talk the ear off a billy goat’! Yet, his smile lit up the terminal. He was full of stories, and nothing was too hard for him to carry or navigate. He shared that he was his mother’s caretaker (she was undergoing dialysis 3 times a week), was in school earning his degree, and shared that he loved helping others. He stayed with us for the first hour – until he delivered us to an eatery close to our gate; and then told us he would come back for us a little later to ‘be sure we were ok’. Which he did!! And, as he said goodbye that day, he said that he aimed to treat others the way he would want to be treated…..and he surely did….in spades.
So, as most of you know, I am a big believer in what we can learn from the random encounters in our lives. As these ‘incidental encounters’ are not incidental at all. I believe they are Divine in nature and origin and we are to learn from those interactions. This past weekend was special for each of us. Exhausting on many levels; yet we left enriched by these random individuals who crossed our paths, and the love, care, and amazing examples of their lives of service.
May each of you have a blessed holiday season and stay awake to those incidental encounters which can and do change our lives.