Monday, October 13, 2008

Thanksgiving Day

We had a two hour lay over between flights, or so we thought. But after arriving and getting to the gate we discovered that our plane had been delayed another half an hour. We grabbed a bite to eat, Joe then parked me by the gate and then went for a stroll. I'm reading a huge trilogy and was eager to spend the time at the gate reading.

I looked up when they arrived and was startled. They were American soldiers in desert fatigues. But what they really seemed to be was boys in costume. They were so incredibly young. Really, really young. 4 days older than sperm. But then as I've gotten older, everyone else seems to get younger. My doctor is a toddler, my pharmacist, is, maybe, a teen. Even so, they had cheeks new to razors. One of them, a strawberry blond, glanced over and saw me. I smiled. He smiled back.

His friends all got up to go but he stayed behind. A few seconds later he approached and asked if he could sit down for a second. He had the manners of a Southern Gentleman. Joe's spot was free so I offered him a seat. My mind went to all the 'thank you for your service' kind of things to say, but they all sounded trite in my mind. So, instead I asked him where he was travelling to, he told me and we compared our travel days.

"What do you really want?" I asked. Not for nothing I took 6 years of psychology. He looked abashed. Looked away. My heart, siezed. This was big. I knew it. But I slowed my breathing. He looked back at me and told me that he wasn't scared of dying 'over there' but he was terrified of ending up ... ending up ... ending up ...


He nodded. "You want to know what it's like, really like."

Again, he nodded.

Then I talked. He'd asked for the truth, I told him the truth. I told him of the poll I'd done here on my blog, the one where I asked what was the greatest problem faced by people with disabilities. That 'attitudes of others' won hands down, even over environmental barriers and daily inconvieniences. I told him that I held a responsible position, I lectured internationally, I was loved. I even told him, a total stranger, that I still enjoyed physcial beauty and physical love. Believe it or not, I was embarrassed. I wasn't writing words on a white piece of paper. I was speaking to a flesh and blood person.

He asked me how long I'd been disabled and how long it took me to adapt. I answered all his questions. I told the unvarnished truth. He knew I was being honest.

Then he was honest, he said that all they guys say they'd rather be dead than disabled. That they didn't want to lose their vitality, their manhood and end up in a wheelchair. At that moment I noticed an older couple, she in a wheelchair, he in a walker, they nuzzled each other. I nodded towards them. He smiled again, more relaxed now, he got the point.

I could hear some raucous laughter in the distance. I knew his friends were coming back. I said, "Go back to your friends." He looked relieved and took off towards them. He stopped a couple feet away and turned and said, "thanks."

He was just a boy.

A frightened boy.

Who wants to do good.

We didn't talk about the war. We didn't talk politics. We just talked, two people. In an airport, with only a few minutes to connect, we did. I felt for him. I understand fear.

Today is Thanksgiving Day. I'm thinking about this guy. I'm thinking about my Dad and his time in the war. I'm thinking about those that made freedom possible. I'm thinking about how, when one is given the gift of freedom - it's important to use.

Every day.

Every single day.


Glee said...

Lucky boy to meet you Dave and now he might not be so frightened. And if he should become disabled he will cope a hell of a lot better.

Onya mate.


Anonymous said...

If you think US soldiers look young you shouldn't travel in Israel. Most people do military service between school and university and, as Israel is a tiny country and soldiers get free bus travel, you can hardly go anywhere without seeing teenagers in uniform, frequently with guns. I remember seeing a teenage girl on the bus, who'd personalised her military beret with a string of brightly coloured beads, yabbering away into her mobile phone, with a gun across her lap and a little pink handbag under her arm.

John R. said...

That young man will keep the sentiments you imparted to him for a long time. Airport conversations can be amazingly profound. Perhaps, he will see people with disabilities, and himself, in a new and more accepting light.

I hope that this young man will return safely from his destination.

I wish this young man was on his way to Aruba....and not a war zone.

Thank you Dave.

wendy said...

It seems your layover was necessary so that you could be in the right place when that young man happened by. How brave of you both to talk as you did.
Today I am thankful that I am here...that I was not born "over there"...where ever that may be. I am grateful that while my fights are real and important they are possible because I am safe and secure and not fearing for my life amid bombs and bullets.

lina said...

from reading with interest and how your story proceeds to tears in my eyes. Talk about God putting you exactly where you needed to be. Thanks for another great lesson reminding us to give thanks.

Carolyn said...

Our soldiers have always been babies. What a travesty.

Have you seen this?


Wheeling said...

Thank you! Thank you for finding the ways to say what so many of us need to say, and can't find words for.

I recently read "Born on the Fourth of July", an autobiography of a man who comes back from Vietnam paralyzed. His fight continues.

gracie1956 said...

My problems look pretty trite in comparison. I pray that young man never has to experience disability but if he does he perhaps can adjust better.
My heart breaks to think of all the young men and women who have been sent into the terrible jaws of war to never return to their families.
Dear God, we must stop this killing and maiming of our young. Is oil really worth the blood of our children?

Rosemary said...

It seems that there are no coincidences. The young soldier needed to talk to someone with first-hand knowledge, who was also honest and compassionate. He hit the jackpot when he found you, Dave.

maryanne in pgh said...

amen to rosemary's insights.

thanks, dave.

Brenda said...

Once again, thanks for sharing. I have a feeling that neither you nor that young man will soon forget that brief airport encounter. Neither will those of us who read your post. There's an old saying: "Life is not made up of years, but of moments." How very true.

rickismom said...

lavender sparkle, Israeli soldiers are no younger than any other. Inlistment is at 18. My son will be drafted this winter, and of course as a mom I am petrified. But I admire him that he believes that protecting his family and fellow Jews is worth serving for.