“… forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” – Mathew 6:12
Why do people insist on carrying their bags?
I was waiting to board the flight to St. Louis and marveling at people’s willingness to lug heavy bags on board, when I never hesitated to check mine.
OK, I admit my real concern was that I was in boarding group “C,” carrying a precious possession – a $1,000 12-string guitar. I was not about to turn that delicate instrument over to baggage handlers to be thrown around like a sack of potatoes.
Ordinarily I’m never in this position, but I had received the call hours earlier: my father was dying, and I had better get there soon if I wanted to say good-bye. I had booked the first flight available and grabbed the essentials. First on the list: my guitar, so I could possibly play and sing to Dad one more time…
“You’re going to have to check that.” I can’t say the order surprised me.
“Can you guarantee it will arrive undamaged?”
“No,” came the predictable answer.
“If it’s damaged, will the airline replace it?” (I knew this script.)
“No.” Surprise, surprise.
“Then I’m not checking it.”
Please know that I don’t usually behave this way! I am the one who tries to get along with everyone. But this involved my chance for my father to have a few more minutes of pleasure before leaving this world. Push had definitely come to shove.
The irritated attendant showed me that every last bin was stuffed with other people’s junk, and there was no room. I spotted one unopened compartment and asked, “What about that one?”
The attendant opened it; it was filled with pillows.
“Perfect. I’ll take it.”
By this time a second attendant had come to find out what (or who) was causing the delay. I looked around, saw all eyes on me, and realized with horror that I had become “that passenger!”
The second attendant, no doubt just wanting to get going, yanked pillows out of the compartment until there was room for the guitar. He stuffed it in, buried it in the pillows, slammed the bin shut, and sternly ordered me to take the last seat, right next to the sky marshal. (I don’t remember if I knew that because the attendants mentioned it – lest I cause more trouble – or because I noticed his gun.)
The sky marshal stepped into the aisle so I could take the window seat (securely confined). I meekly buckled myself in and stared out the window, not wanting eye contact with anyone.
As we took off, humiliation soon gave way to sadness as a thousand bittersweet memories tumbled through my mind: the view of a parade from the shoulders of a tall, strong man; laughing around the dinner table at his antics and the playful scolding of my mother; the traditional fire he would build on Christmas morning; I remembered the silly songs he’d make up spontaneously (Paul McCartney he was not.) and the awesome flying saucer runs he’d build out of the deep snowdrifts in our back yard. I remembered snuggling in his lap, and his asking if I had any kisses left. I remembered valuable lessons he’d taught me about saving, spending, and investing money. (And I’d thought we were just playing Monopoly.)
I had flashbacks of my birthdays, graduation, and moments before he walked me down the aisle to give me away. I smiled as I remembered him with his grandchildren and his delight at the excuse to be “silly” again.
The silliness had come in handy with the encroaching Alzheimer’s. After the first stressful months of confusion, he had finally slipped into the mindset of a little child. I remembered the day he declared, “Ann! I realized what I forgot to do! I forgot to grow up!” and how my impatience had melted away as I hugged him, realizing I still loved him, just the way he was.
I recalled the confusion and devastation on his face when my mother passed away, like a little lost puppy, and the last time my sister and I had seen him, when he had mumbled, “I love you so much… Wherever you are … wherever I am … I will always love you…” I remembered looking at my sister as we both silently wondered, Is he saying goodbye?
As the plane descended, the knot in my stomach returned.
“It looks like we’re on time.” It took me a moment to realize that the sky marshal was making a last-minute attempt at conversation.
“I hope so,” I replied, and I wondered if he noticed the catch in my voice. Suddenly I felt the need to explain myself.
“I got the call late last night. My father’s dying.” Our eyes met, but he didn’t say anything more. Glancing at the overhead bin across the aisle, I explained with a shrug, “He likes to hear me sing.” I turned back to the window, so he wouldn’t see the tears spill over.
It seemed like forever before the announcement came that we could deplane. To my surprise, the sky marshal jumped out of his seat and fetched my guitar. Handing it to me, he said kindly, “I hope you get to sing to your father.”
I thanked him. I don’t know if my words were audible, but I think he understood. As I exited, I didn’t make eye contact with anyone else; I was painfully aware that I was probably still “that passenger.” But it felt good to know that there was one person that understood why I had acted the way I did.
Christian, would you like to stand out from the crowd? Here’s a radical suggestion: Next time you see one of “those people,” remember that “that person” has a story. And I doubt that anyone’s story is that they woke up and said “I think I’ll be a jerk today.” Make a point of being kind to that person, even if – especially if – everyone else is totally exasperated. I guarantee that you will make an impression. If not on the crowd, it will definitely affect “that person.”