Looking for answers to life's questions

My first flight in several years was an entirely different experience than any I’ve ever had. This was my first since becoming ill with Bells Palsy. I arrived at the airport hours early after being dropped off by my son on his way to work. It was a holiday; Veterans Day and the traffic was so very light in the morning. My son said that was the fastest he had ever made the 45 mile drive. We were able to use the carpool lane since I was with him. When I walked into the small terminal, there was no one in line to check in. So I handed over my bag and pre-printed boarding pass. I asked if my cane was going to be a problem. The jovial retort was “not unless you have a knife in there”. It would have to pass through the scanner but I would be able to keep it with me. I was asked if I needed a wheel chair. Explaining that I could walk just fine and the cane was for balance due to the balance issue they insisted that I would definitely need a chair on arrival in Seattle. I would be changing planes and the terminals were quite far apart. They were so insistent that I relented. We had a short conversation about my condition as I answered questions about what caused this. I explained that there were several theories but the general consensus was it was caused by the same dormant virus from Chicken Pox. It was also responsible for Shingles which I was lucky enough not to get. I was told that very often extreme stress or cold could be a factor by alternative health practitioners. I had both at the time in spades so who really knows. I do know that no one was aware that I’d ever had Chicken Pox as a child. I thought I was immune. So I toddled on down to my gate using my son’s backpack to hold my laptop, kindle, camera and i-pod along with my wallet and lunch. I was trying to travel light and not use my rolling laptop case. It was awkward putting the larger case in the overhead bins. But it was certainly easier to manage than all that weight on my back.
I waited for my flight enjoying some quiet reading time. As the plane was readying to board, I heard my name called to come to the check in podium. I was promptly boarded with all the others with small children and needing assistance. Well, I didn’t think I needed assistance but when I got on the plane I thought how nice it was not to have to face the crush of people while trying to negotiate with the cane and heavy backpack. I didn’t even get a chance to think about being put ahead of others it happened so fast.
When I got off the plane in Seattle, they asked at the front of the plane if I was expecting a wheel chair and asked for my name. The chair was right outside at the bottom of the steps. Now I was really embarrassed. I can walk just fine though not very straight. Crushes of people can visually throw me off balance but I have never felt comfortable taking help from my family, much less strangers. Once inside, the nice young lady said we had a long way to go and a train to ride. She wasn’t kidding. By the time she stopped at my gate I was exhausted just from the ride. I would have missed my flight trying to make it on my own. But sitting in that chair left me feeling crumpled and old. Looking sideways to a reflection on a post, I saw my own mother as the wheelchair attendant had navigated her through O’Hare airport on her last trip to Germany. I remember how she struggled with knowing she needed the help and wanting to be strong and independent. When did I get that old and crumpled? I saw myself hunched over in the chair holding tight to my backpack and cane feeling rather insignificant and a nuisance all at the same time. Once again I was boarded before the rest of the passengers and dealing with the mixture of gratitude and shame. I have all my life been the caregiver. This was new and I was not comfortable with it. I would be the first to assure you that it was perfectly ok to accept the help but I was struggling with it deeply. Now I really know how my mother felt and I didn’t like it. There are so many of us who for one reason or the other wind up needing help for a bit of time. Some need help for a lifetime and you can see them struggling with the same emotions; gratitude that others are so willing to offer help and the embarrassment of needing it. Of course I know enough to tip well. Pushing me up the hill of a concourse is no small feat. The last wheel chair driver looked about ready for retirement himself.
My trip back to my son’s home has been arranged a bit differently. I am staying with my sister a bit longer than I originally planned so I can get a straight through flight with no plane changes. It will be worth the wait. In the meantime I’m taking care of my sister who is having as much trouble as I do accepting after surgery help. It’s slightly easier since she’s had to give me so much help and I owe her big time. I know that accepting help graciously is a gift for the other person but it does take some adjustment of my internal thoughts. This is the time in life where you find all the kindest of people who want to help and let you keep your dignity intact.
From my heart to yours,


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