Sometimes, I write a “based-on-a-true-story” piece about something I observe in real life. This one is based on a couple I observed Friday when flying home from a work trip.
“Anyone who requires pre-boarding is invited to come forward for Flight 1515 to Milwaukee.”
They had been standing quietly and patiently for some time, on their way to somewhere or something: vacation, back home, visiting the grandkids, maybe to an appointment.
After the announcement was made, he helped her toward the front of the line, one hand on her right elbow, the other gently – lovingly – on the small of her back as she moved slowly but deliberately toward the ticketing agent. Without a word (because he knew words weren’t necessary or welcome at the moment) his actions and attitude let her know he wasn’t leaving her side, not for a second. He’d be there for her, just like he had been there for her – and she for him – all these years.
It was apparent that this was a new thing, a part of their lives they were still trying to figure out, navigate, “get used to” (if that’s even possible when one’s physical health begins to fail).
He was concerned, there was no doubt about it, and it showed because he rarely – if ever – took his hand off her elbow as they started toward the jetway. She had one crutch, the kind with a cuff that wraps around your arm, leaning heavily on it as she walked (“heavily” being a relative term because was slight of frame, and as someone who obviously treasured her dignity and independence, she avoided doing anything “heavily").
“At least we get preferred boarding,” she said, and they both laughed, but his eyes told a different story. “I wish we could be in that pack of people waiting to board ... waiting for someone else.” She thought it, too but what were they to do about it?
Best guesses would put them in their mid-70s, but possibly older, since they both looked healthy and fit and maybe young for their age. As they made their way toward the door of the plane, down the carpeted incline of the jetway, he kept looking back, wishing – praying – she could move faster because he could see the line of “general boarding” passengers growing every second. One could almost feel his thoughts: “I just hope no one gets angry, or worse yet, says anything. Why can’t they just pass by, so we don’t have to hurry?”
But if he was thinking that, he needn’t worry about the people leading the next group; they had his back, just like he had hers. No one was going to push past them; no one was going to say anything, not if they knew was was good for them.
Yet, one could understand if he was worried, in a time when society doesn’t always allow for patience or tolerance, even when the circumstances call for it, demand it. Aren’t we all impatient pretty much all the time these days?
But more than feeling bad for folks behind them, this man wished and prayed his wife could move faster and more ably because – both selfishly and selflessly -- he wanted her back.
He wanted them back, the way they used to be, in those days when getting on a plane was fun and exciting. The days before the pain, the doctor visits, the months looking for a diagnosis, finally an answer, and then, it all getting worse.
Now, after months of hoping it would go away or at least improve, the die had been cast, and here he was, a caregiver. He’d never use that word in front of her. After all, save for that fact that her walking had been slowed, she was everything she’d ever been. Still proud and well-appointed, with a mind that still amazed him.
She was still the woman he met all those years ago, the one that stole his heart and then gave it back three times its original size the day she said “Yes.” Fact is, even in her condition, he still needed her more than she needed him.
His mind raced in that few minutes shuffling down the jetway, and between checking in with her -- “Are you OK? Are we going too fast? Is the crutch slipping at all?” – his mind wandered, to the long walks they used to take, the weddings where they’d dance for hours, the tennis and golf, and all the times they’d just pick up for a weekend and get away to browse the shops and antique stores in a quaint, nearby town. To some degree, they still could do some of this, but with conditions, and planning.
And limitations, so many limitations.
There would be no more spontaneity, no more throwing caution to the wind. Now, caution was their new normal. Caution and waiting, waiting to see what would happen next, how fast and how far her condition would advance.
And on the other side of the coin, to see how much life they could live every day, every hour, every minute. And just like that slow walk down the jetway, this made him impatient, but she didn’t do that to him. It was her condition; something he knew was as good at that moment as it would ever be again.
But we -- the "general boarding" folks -- could sympathize, and I hope in some small way, he felt that; that they felt that.
They made their way, slowly but surely, to the doors of the plane, where they were met by a smiling flight attendant who helped them as he stowed her crutch in the overhead compartment before they both sat down, having completed one of the many journeys they had in front of them.
Because now everything – even the simplest thing -- was an effort, a journey, and something that most of us in that long line behind them could not yet imagine.
Years ago, they saw a future for themselves, an entire lifetime ahead of them. Travel, children, careers, a home, new friends and new adventures. Today, sitting in seats 2B and 2C, the future again lay ahead, this one more immediate and myopic. And instead of one looking to the horizon and everything that lay ahead for them, this future was staring them in the face.
But one thing was certain. When you saw him with her, and saw his eyes when he looked at her, you could see that the love he had was as strong as the day they met, the day she stole his heart.
© 2019 David R. Haznaw