Tuesday, March 29, 2011

On a quiet night at LaGuardia airport....

     This story goes back about 7-8 years ago when I was working for Mrs. Smith's Bakeries selling pies and desserts to foodservice places in the Northeast U.S. and Ontario Canada.

     It was likely a Thursday or Friday evening and I was at LaGuardia headed home from a 3 day trip.  I book a lot of these, as I find them more efficient than plane hopping to different locations in the same week.  My normal pattern is to fly or drive into an area, get settled, and then to hit as many accounts and distributors as I can for the next few days.  It works well for me, but you have to be a good planner and be disciplined to keep yourself motivated and active.  I had done my time in NYC that week, and was now headed for hearth and home, but unfortunately, delayed.  This night, I think it was due to weather as a lot of folks were in the same boat as me, with hours to kill at the airport.  The more I travel, the more patient I become as it relates to these types of things.  There's no reason to stress on it, I tend to just hunker down and make the best use of the time.  I had a membership to the US Airways club at that time, which is where I was headed, when I first saw her.

     She was sitting on the floor, in a corridor of the airport, next to an electrical outlet, with her phone plugged in, and in her hand, and she was openly weeping.  She was in her 20's and had strawberry blond hair that was cut short and she was one of those healthy looking corn-fed girls from the Midwest. 

The inside of the US Airways club at LaGuardia
 Although some may argue this point, I do have a heart, and was immediately drawn to this girl to see if I could be of any assistance.  I approached her and asked her if I could help in any way, and she told me she was waiting for her phone to charge, so she could use it again, but didn't share the details of what was upsetting her, hardly a surprise, as I was a complete stranger to her.  I invited her to be my guest inside the club, around the corner from where she was sitting, but she declined.  She lowered her head again, so I proceeded to the club and checked in.  The story could have ended there easily, but as I settled in, I thought again of the girl crying on the floor, and thought that I should at least try and make her more comfortable.  I gathered up some cheese and cracker packs from the complimentary table, poured an iced water into a glass and headed back out to try and comfort the crying girl. The next ten minutes was akin to trying to coax a bird into a building using bird seed, she would hesitate, ponder, vacillate, but finally took me up on my offer to at least come into the comfortable area of the club.   I guess it is a common thing now, to be wary of strangers, but isn't it sad that we went from "A stranger is just a friend you haven't met yet" to "Every stranger you meet is a potential danger" in one generation?  We personally never taught our kids "Stranger Danger" we tried to teach them common sense, and that you can still be firm but polite to all people, but I digress....

     So we settled into the chairs and when she was relaxed, I asked her if there was anything that she wanted to talk about.  There was.  She was trying to get to her home town as she had gotten word that her mother was taken ill suddenly and was headed to the hospital.  By the time she reached the airport, her mother had been admitted, and it wasn't looking good. Her siblings were able to be there with her, but the flights back home were delayed, so she was sitting at LaGuardia, as her mother lay dying in a hospital bed, some 1100 miles away.  She had worn out the battery on her phone talking to her brother, and it needed to charge before he called with the next update.  We talked of our families, and in this case, unlike in most of my other conversations, she talked more about hers and what it was like growing up in Iowa or Kansas (that detail was lost to the ages).  While she wanted her phone to ring, you could tell she was apprehensive about the next call coming in too.  As an aside, I think, personally, it is absolutely possible to become emotionally intimate with someone that you have just met.  My wife thinks it's funny when people I barely know become my Facebook friends and I then get involved in their trials and tribulations.  I, on the other hand, never see an issue with it, as it helps to keep me caring about my fellow travelers on this planet, and maybe a little more empathetic too.  My wife just thinks I am weird.  Back on point, I was caught up in this girl's world, yet we had just met.  Then her phone rang.

     The conversation was short, but the reaction was not.  Her mother had passed, as she sat at an airport 1100 miles away.  The trip home to be with her mom, had suddenly changed to a trip home to bury her mom.  Her hands were shaking as she slowly folded her phone closed and she looked up at me, as if I could give her answers.  I wished, more than anything at that moment, that I could have, but you have to have answers to give them, and I had none.  I offered a hug, and she accepted it.  This was uncharacteristic of me, I'm not a hugger in general, but some deep seeded instinct took over and I was able to offer comfort as she sobbed for a minute as we just stood there.  My shoulder got damp with her tears, and when she was started to pull away, I released her and we sat back down, this girl who had been a perfect stranger just an hour or so before.  My eyes weren't dry either.  I got some tea for us both, and in a while she started talking again. 

     I remember reading some time ago about the stages of death, or serious illness, and in the next 45 minutes or so, I saw a lot of them firsthand.  The sadness was evident.  She then started to talk about making plans for the funeral, where her mother had wanted to be buried, but with no emotion.  I'm not sure that wasn't the denial stage, with her mind trying to keep itself occupied, while it slowly processed the information that was too painful to take in immediately.  Anger showed up, and she was angry at herself for taking a teaching job so far from her family, and then angry at God for taking her mom from her.  With so little information that her brother had been able to provide, she couldn't justify the anger she felt towards the doctors and hospital, except to say that she didn't understand how they couldn't have kept her alive for just a few more hours.  I, again, had no answers.  I did have a heart that was aching for her and her family, and a set of ears that could listen, so I continued to do just that until the announcement came that the flights were starting back up again.  I saw glimmers of acceptance before we hugged one more time, as I went off to my flight, and I arranged for her to stay in the club until hers boarded.  We did not exchange numbers, as we were destined to become strangers to one another again.  At the gate a few people gave my watery eyes a second look, but no one ventured to ask what it was that was had touched me in that way.

     I sat in the window for the hour-long flight home and instead of reading the latest paperback thriller, as I often do, I silently prayed for this girl and her family.  I prayed that they would find comfort in each other.  I prayed that the pain would ebb and be replaced with the happy memories of their mother, and that she could keep those memories intact so she could eventually share them with her children.  So many times now, it seems we lose at least the lessons that were taught to us by our mothers and fathers and yet they still have the same value in our world today. 

I prayed that God protect them from more harm like this until they were strong enough to bear it, and lastly I prayed for my own family that they stay safe and healthy for a while longer.  It was very late when I arrived home, so I woke no one, and went to bed with one last thought of that girl and her circumstance.  The next day must have started busy, as I don't think I ever shared this story with my family.  I mentioned it to my wife this week, and she normally has a much better memory than me, and she didn't recall me ever telling her the story.  This last week I found out that a close friend's mother is ill and she is facing this type of challenge now, which is likely why I thought of this particular night, now, 7 years later.  I see God's hand in things, and I wonder if he put me in that airport terminal that night to be of comfort to that girl, and maybe to teach me how to comfort someone like this, to prepare me for weeks like the one my friend is having now.  I hope I am up for the challenge.  If I could ask you all who read this to do one favor for me, it would be to say a single prayer for my anonymous friend's mother today, to ask God to comfort the family, to cure her if possible and to give them the strength and grace they will need to get through this.  You will be praying for and comforting a complete stranger, and you will be weird, just like me. 


Daphne Mays said...

I don't mind being weird so I'll be glad to pray for all involved. Having recently been through almost losing my dad, a lot of those same emotions are pretty close. Makes it easier to pray.

jack said...

Will touching post, & yes I will pray for ur friend as well as I do for my family. but not weird like u.

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