A few days ago I posted about one way to navigate the stresses of air travel (i.e., a good sense of humor). Today, I got to observe a different – but still amazing – encounter at the airport.
A husband and wife in the late 30s/early 40s were traveling with their two 10-(or so)-year-old daughters. One daughter was autistic, and though she was higher-functioning (i.e., she could walk and feed herself, and she interacted moderately with her family members), she was still clearly disabled (she sat in a large stroller, she was non-verbal but made many loud noises, she avoided eye contact, she engaged in repetitive fluttering and self-soothing behaviors, etc.). I get slightly irked when it’s just my sweetie and I traveling during a busy time; I can’t imagine the stress these two adults might have felt during their travels. If they did experience stress, though, they managed it incredibly well; they seemed like any other set of parents traveling with kids: tired and road-weary, yes; but burdened or pressed to a limit, no.
They boarded the plane without incident, and as far as I know their flight was just fine. (Though my seat was not near theirs, I didn’t hear or observe anything out of the ordinary during the 3-hours we were all on the plane together.) However, when I happened to see them again at the baggage claim area, something was clearly not okay.
[At this point in the story, please note: I did not stalk these people. I didn’t even seek them out, really. They just happened to sit next to me while we were all waiting to board the plane; and then I just happened to see them again when we were all collecting our bags.]
Okay, I just wanted to get that out there. I’m not a stalker, nor am I a lurker. Okay. : )
Anyway… The dad was talking to an airline representative in a kind-but-firm tone. Initially I didn’t hear what the situation was all about; and it really wasn’t any of my business, so I didn’t make any efforts to figure it out. However, as the conversation continued, and the volume increased slightly, I pieced it together: Apparently the baggage handlers completely trashed one (or more) pieces of this family’s luggage; and indeed, at least one suitcase I saw was being held together with packing tape (literally). When the now-torn-apart bag was loaded onto the baggage claim conveyor belt, items started spilling from it; and at that point, a different airline attendant accosted the dad, telling him that it was some sort of violation to have his items not contained within a piece of luggage, and demanding (in a sharp-and-loud tone) that he do X, Y, or Z IMMEDIATELY to remedy the situation. To which the dad basically told that attendant to get a grip on herself, that *he* had done nothing wrong, that this airline was in fact the responsible party, that if she had an issue she should address her peers, and that all he was trying to do was get his daughter squared away so that he didn’t have a *real* issue to address and resolve in a few minutes. Apparently the attendant didn’t take too kindly to this, and so she called over attendant #1 – and that’s when I stumbled upon the scene.
What I did observe was the dad explain the situation to attendant #1 with incredible patience, and a generous helping of kindness; but also with appropriate firmness and solidness. The tone and tenor he displayed was one of both compassion and strength; as in, “Lady, I feel for you; but seriously, I’m not going to take crap from your staff. I want to be kind; but I will also do what I need to do for my family; and I’ll be damned if you think I’m going to let one of your power-hungry people try to walk on me just because she has her own personal issues.” [Please note this man said *none* of these things; this is just what I read into his body language and demeanor.]
I was struck by how well this father showed respect to his fellow humans, but *not* at the expense of his family or himself. This can be a very difficult balance to achieve; and yet he seemed to do so beautifully, especially amid a stressful setting and situation.
So, kind-and-strong sir, though I don’t know you, I hope you “know” that you absolutely set a wonderful example for me today; and I’m grateful to you for that. I wish you well on the next phase of your journey – both on your trip, and in your life. I have a good feeling that you will do just fine.