10 December 2007


I was on a plane 2 weeks ago from Indianapolis to Austin heading west to see my father in Tucson. I changed flights just that morning because I didn't want to get up at 4:30 a.m. for my 6:00 a.m flight.

We were waiting to take off and there was one last passenger slowly making his way down the aisle. He was struggling a bit. He looked to be in his nineties. He was dressed in a red sweatshirt and carried a brown women's clutch and a cane. He grabbed the seats on both sides of the isle tightly inching down with each step. Make no mistake, he was determined to make his way on his own. There was a sense of the sublime in this moment I and felt blessed that he was to take the middle seat next to me.

The first thing he does is smile at me. The second thing he does is start talking in words I couldn't clearly make out, but then I see he wants to share what is in the women's bag: 6 or so Depends diapers. He was explaining their attributes in great detail and that they are made in all sizes for both men and women. The man on the right side was a very kind soul. We had an instant bond as hosts for our new friend in the red sweatshirt. He talked almost the whole flight and I listened. I learned that he was a builder, had 5 children but one had died, taught his son how to make stain glass windows, and many other things. I think I understood about a third of his words.

We were interrupted by the flight attendant who made a point of telling him that we were going to Indianapolis. I corrected her that we were leaving Indianapolis and she corrected me to insist that we were going to Indianapolis. Later when I got up she pulled me aside to tell me that this kind man has severe dementia and had found his way from Orange County, California to Indianapolis to visit his wife. I also learned that she passed away ten years ago and that his son was trying to get him back home.

So this tender life that was sharing with me became a bit more so, and also a little sadder. I got back to my seat and he proceeded to tell me about his wife and myriad other things. It was heartbreaking to be in his presence and at the same time life preserving. What I remember about him most is how earnest and intent his eyes were.

I had 2 small rocks shaped like hearts with me. My plan was to give one to my father and one was for me. One was a shiny red one that a hispanic maid at the Ritz Carlton in Orlando gave me. This heart rock was from her home. She had seen my brown heart rock and inquired about the meaning of it. She made a point of remembering to bring her red one for me before my conference ended. I decided that her gift belonged to him.

He smiled and said that it was very sweet of me. Then he immediately put it in his mouth with the instinct of a child presented with candy. I laughed out loud and suggested that maybe he should take it out. He took my suggestion and put in his oxford shirt pocket underneath his sweatshirt. Then he changed his mind and put it in his t-shirt pocket underneath his oxford shirt. He showed me that both shirts were tucked in so the heart would be more safe.

About half of the time I'm awake and paying attention. In this case the message was so clear: be kind and cherish him.

We were in the first few rows and upon landing the plane members and crew patiently waited for him to slowly make his way seat by seat and finally to his wheelchair. I left before seeing who it was that was to greet him. It felt like it was too private of a moment and not mine. But I did feel grace again with me and was grateful to him.


Anonymous said...

Beautiful story, Sly. Your perspective on life is refreshing.
- Bill

silvie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
silvie said...

hey billy,
good to hear from you. periodically i think of moving to california...and if i did could meet you at starbucks and catch up on everything, hear you sing and play guitar, and other goodness that would come with that move. there is a particular job that spawns the thought. hope you are well. sly

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