"Hello," his greeting was accompanied by a huge smile, "how are you?"
I had that panic that you have when you realize that the person speaking to you clearly knows you and, yet, you have no idea who they are or where they fit into your life. So I smiled back and was about to return the greeting. Before I could, he spoke again.
"Good to see you, but I bet you don't remember me. I was the guy who gave you a push from the plane to the gate a while back. I think you were coming back from California."
Ah! The Air Canada guy who helped me. I did remember him. He had been a tremendously nice guy. I have learned that there are all sorts of ways to be pushed, just like there are all sorts of ways to be driven to work - and none of them have to do with pushing or with driving. It's all to do with the manner in which you are treated as the person being pushed or the person being driven. This guy was someone who managed to do his job in such a way that I felt like a fellow human rather than something to be transported.
So, we talked.
I told him how much I appreciated his help that day, it had been a tough flight and the assistance to the plane on the other end had been terrible. He shook his head on hearing that and said, "I don't understand why everyone isn't treated with respect."
I asked him how he kept that attitude, he must deal with travellers who are frustrated and who take it out on him as the airline representative.
"It's never really about me, is it?" he said, "People are always dealing with so much. Meetings and pressures and family issues - every passenger is under stress. For people with disabilities who need help, they've got the worries about the kind of help they will get, they worry about the wheelchair they'll have to ride in, if they have their own, they are worried it survived the trip. All the worries of all the other travels and then the worries that come with travelling and needing assistance. It's never about me."
"Unless you are late," I said, joking.
"Even then," he said, still serious, "the reaction is mostly about the system that sends me late, or doesn't get me the message in time, or that assigns me two flights at the same time. Their anger makes sense, but it's not really directed at me. I get what it's like to have to wait for help while you watch everyone else just simply leave. It's got to trigger all sorts of anger. All I can do is do my best to let everyone know that, no matter what, I respect where they are coming from and will do what I can to get them where they want to go."
"That's a great attitude," I said, meaning it.
"It should be on the job description," he said.
It should be indeed.