I recently visited my friend Joe Thomas in Mobile, Alabama. It was my first trip away from the Northwest in three years and I was really looking forward to it. Joe and I go back more than fifty years and when we do get together we unabashedly indulge our Three Great Pleasures:
Now with each passing year I’m ever more grateful to have a friend like Joe.
The one thing I wasn’t looking forward to was my return flight because it included a four-hour layover in Atlanta. The thought of hanging out in an airport during this Covid-stricken era came to me as gruesome.
So my plan was to kill my time in Atlanta — to find a quiet spot, close my eyes and pretend I wasn’t there.
My logic went something like this: I didn’t want to be in Atlanta so why not pretend I wasn’t. The reality? I was.
After about 30 minutes a woman in a wheelchair parked herself right next to me.
I’m embarrassed to admit I mumbled under my breath, “Damn, why me?”
When I grumpily looked up I saw her bending back over her wheelchair attempting to retrieve something from her backpack using only — her teeth. It was her smartphone.
On closer observation, I realized she had no use of her limbs, neither her arms nor her legs. Moreover, she had no travel companion. So she had only her mouth to navigate herself about in her wheelchair and manage all of her affairs.
I thought of asking her if I could help her retrieve her phone but it became abundantly clear she didn’t need my help. She was performing a well-practiced maneuver.
As I lay slouched in my chair with my cap pulled over my face I saw out of the corner of my eye she was texting using her tongue to manipulate the keyboard.
I was blown away.
Then, half an hour later a blind women with a guide dog joined her. I couldn’t tell whether they knew each other or if it was just a chance encounter.
Whatever, in a matter of minutes they were chatting away about their experiences in the Atlanta airport. From what I could hear it was a place they both found endlessly fascinating.
I was about to get a master class in living in the moment.
The sightless woman shared all that she heard in her walkabout: passengers arguing with a ticket agents over baggage fees; a child pleading with his mother for a ride on the passenger cart; customers in Starbucks complaining about the hassles of clearing security.
Now the woman in the wheelchair shared how getting to the gate was like a trip through an obstacle course. She seemed to revel in likening her experience to a game of running the gauntlet without getting toppled over.
Their conversation was fun and playful. Here were two women who were describing their lives as one great adventure.
Where I was killing my time in Atlanta — they were living theirs.
As I imagined myself as sightless or without the use of my limbs, and having to navigate myself through an airport, I tumbled into an emotional abyss.
Such a life would leave no room for killing time. The sheer act of living would be a full-time affair.
And here were two people who chose not to grouse about it, but instead to live in the moment with a sense of good cheer. As if to say: Why not love the life you have rather than pine for the life you don’t?
I thought, how many moments in my life have I killed time for lack of interest? How often have I forgotten I’m only given a brief stay on the planet and a moment killed is a moment irretrievably lost?
Needless to say, after this master class in living I climbed out of my chair and headed out to take my own walkabout through the Atlanta airport. It was time to start living again.
As I passed these women when boarding flight 339, I whispered a quiet thank you.
Just a thought…
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