Our flight landed and it was the usual slow, anxious wait to depart the plane. As we eventually worked our way down the narrow aisles and exited the aircraft, we were finally en route to the next gate for our last flight home. The airport, as usual was crawling with hurried travelers laden down with numerous overstuffed bags. Children of all age groups were in tow with weary and tired parents tugging at small, frail out-stretched arms.
Always evident at the airport were the fast-paced business travelers, pulling behind laptops and clutching their cell phones, chatting endlessly. It was obvious that these worldly travelers knew exactly where they were going; a far cry from the not-so-worldly first time vacationers, in search of a TV screen to reveal their next departure gate. Our next gate was a long and tedious walk, but we had plenty of time before our flight home. Just as we arrived and dropped ourselves into the two vacant seats in the waiting area, I noticed the elderly woman being pushed into the departure area in a wheelchair. They made their way up to the check-in desk and the stewardess spoke with the lady who was attending to the seating list. In a matter of minutes, the stewardess was off to her next destination. She leaned over, saying goodbye and left the elderly woman clutching her bags, alone…to fend for herself in her wheelchair.
I periodically glanced up from my magazine, taking note of all the fascinating travelers who were arriving for our flight. The airport is on the top of my list for ‘people watching’ locales, and of course, one of the best places to find attention-grabbing and unusual characters from all walks of life. Scurrying from gate to gate, I noticed middle-aged men in business suits, women draped in their finest furs and heels, aging hippies in vintage clothing, students clad in low-rise jeans and of course, not to exclude the ever popular twenty-something group, dressed in the ‘ghetto look’ with baggy pants and shiny, over-sized gold chains. The outlandish get-ups were a feast for the eye, and the parade of interesting travelers kept you guessing as to where everyone was heading.
Glancing up again to scan the room, I looked over at the woman in the wheelchair and realized that she was attempting to stand up from the chair. She looked a little shaky and quickly dropped back down before giving it another try. Grabbing the handles of her chair again before steadying herself, she finally reached somewhat of a standing position, as wobbly as it was. She seemed to want to talk with the stewardess behind the check-in desk.
I only turned away for a moment, but just at that split second I heard a terrible thud, a crack on the cement floor. My head spun around and I saw the elderly woman lying crumpled on the floor. Two people standing by the desk immediately turned and helped her up. I could tell by the scared looks on their faces, they wondered if she was alright. After getting the woman to her feet, they gingerly maneuvered her back into the wheelchair. In a matter of minutes she was situated, but again sitting alone. I felt a terrible sense of sadness for this woman after such an awful tumble. It was quite obvious that she was traveling alone and visibly shaken from her fall. I noticed her wiping the tears from eyes. I watched her, as did most of the people in the waiting area. She clutched her purse for dear life while trying to regain some composure. All alone, and looking so vulnerable, she squirmed in her chair seeming most uncomfortable.
I looked around the waiting area and noticed all the timid faces. Eyes were darting up and down with fleeting gestures from one person to the next, then back to their reading material. It seemed obvious; no one was willing to get involved. I was overcome with emotion as I witnessed the terribly shaken woman trying desperately to retrieve something from her purse. Her body was trembling, all the while trying to hold back her tears. I wondered if she was injured from her fall, but I stayed glued to my seat as did everyone else in the waiting area. We sat oblivious to her need; distant and far removed from the whole scene which had just taken place. Who was going to come to her aid? Did anyone have the same thoughts as I did? We all seemed to be waiting for someone else to make a move. I couldn’t stand it any longer and I needed to do something.
Jumping up from my seat, I made my way towards her. She was still fumbling with her purse when I reached her and knelt down beside the wheelchair. I crouched closer to her, leaning over to be at eye level, and asked, “Are you ok and can I help you find something in your purse?” She looked back at me, her face flushed and her forehead perspiring from the incident. In seconds, the tears began streaming down her cheeks. Still clutching her bag, and in a whimper of a tone she replied,
“I’m looking for a tissue.”I stood up and rummaged through her purse, eventually finding a neatly folded tissue at the bottom of the bag.
She choked back the tears and thanked me when I placed it in her hand. After wiping her cheeks and face, she dabbed at the corner of her eyes before blowing her nose. I knew that she also felt some embarrassment, understandably so. In a waiting room full of people with staring eyes and hushed whispers, she was no doubt feeling singled out. I asked the woman her name, and if she was traveling alone. She pulled herself together, coughing into her tissue and clearing her throat before answering me.
She whimpered, “My name is Doreen and my daughter is meeting me when my flight arrives.”
She added, “I am going to be visiting with my family for a few weeks.” Doreen’s face was slightly flushed from her fall, but she was sweet looking; her years of work and raising children noticeable in the small wrinkles around her eyes and mouth. Her short grey hair was nicely kept in a modern bob style. Doreen was smartly dressed in a comfortable pant suit, but now looking a bit disheveled from her fall. She had another bag at her side, which she didn’t dare lose sight of. It was packed full with parcels for her waiting family. She smiled up at me again, thanking me for coming to comfort her.
I thought to myself, ‘We all have mothers’, and I hope and pray that someone would extend the same kindness to another elderly person.
My gesture was simple, but it was a true pleasure to help Doreen.
I had already made the decision to stay by her side until boarding time. I glanced over at my husband and he smiled back, knowing that I would not be returning to my seat. I sat with Doreen, chatting about our families, and I could tell that she was feeling better by our conversation. It had taken her mind off of the fall, and she seemed to be enjoying the chat. When Doreen talked about her grandchildren, she beamed; a smile lighting up her face when she mentioned their names. She was excited about her pending visit. I still wondered if she might experience any side affects from the tumble.
It wasn’t long before the stewardess called out, “Flight 787 will now be boarding and anyone with children or those in need of assistance may board now.” Doreen seemed relieved that it was time to leave the waiting area as I pushed her toward the gate area. A new stewardess at the check-in desk asked me if I was traveling with her, and I said that she was alone. I mentioned that I could possibly sit beside her, but Doreen quickly added that she would be fine. She reached back and patted my hand on the handle of the wheelchair. I leaned down and asked, “Are you sure you will be ok from here?” She insisted that she was feeling better. She thanked me again for staying with her.
I returned to get my carry-on and my husband turned to me, and I knew what he wanted to tell me. “That was very kind of you” he said. I quickly answered, “It was the only thing to do.” We grabbed our bags and boarded the plane for our flight home. When we reached our seats and got settled with our luggage situated in the bins above, I made my way up the aisle to see how my new friend Doreen was coping. She looked tired, her head resting back in the seat. I patted her arm and told her that it wouldn’t be long before she would finally be with her family. Those words brought an instant grin to her face as the corners of her lips raised upwards.
Doreen rested off and on for the rest of the flight, never moving from her seat. The last time I saw Doreen was at the baggage pick-up area. She had been united with her daughter and grandchildren and I quickly made my way over to say goodbye. I introduced myself to her daughter, and before any other words could be exchanged, I piped up and said,
“Your mother had a fall from the wheelchair and hit her head. I think you might want to monitor her for the night, just to make sure that she has not suffered a concussion.”
Doreen’s daughter turned to her mother with a shocked look, but quickly turned back to me and thanked me for letting her know. I knew that Doreen would not readily divulge this information. The baggage was now barreling down the belt as all the anxious travelers scurried to find their luggage. Travelers pushed to the front, pulling luggage from the moving belt only to realize it was the wrong bag. The number of black suitcases far out-weighed the coloured cases, which were easily distinguishable from the rest. Waiting patiently, I put my hand on Doreen’s shoulder and said, “Have a wonderful visit with your family.” She peered back up at me and the look of relief on her face was comforting. She was happy to finally be in the fold of her loving family.
I glanced over at my husband with our bags in tow, moving towards the exit. I quickly joined him as we headed home after a wonderful vacation. I turned back to have a last glimpse of Doreen. She waved at me just before she bent over and extended her arms wide to hug her two young grandchildren. They all kissed, and from the distance I could see the tears stream down Doreen’s face.
My eyes welled up slightly, even though I knew that Doreen’s tears this time, were those of joy! It was a wonderful sight to witness after a long, tiresome day of travel. After meeting Doreen that day, I realized that she taught me something.
Caring and compassion for others in need is truly...
One of life's simple pleasures.