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 single day.