by Kathi Szabo
Last week I took a trip. It was a short trip. Just over 24 hours. I flew to Chicago to bring my mom out to the East Coast where my brother and I both live.
My mom is almost 83 years old. She has macular degeneration in both eyes. One is better then the other. But having spent those 24 hours with her, I see how she struggles to see what is right in front of her. Darker objects, like her cane are the most difficult. She also has bad knees, so walking is a struggle as well.
Managing the airport was my greatest concern.
I would have a rental car. Mom coming with me to return it didn’t make sense. So, we decided I would drop her off at the terminal, take the car back and then return for check-in. Sounds like a decent plan, until you put it into action.
The Drop Off
First, even though we had asked for wheelchair assistance, the airline doesn’t tell you that there is actually a handicap entrance which is right near the wheelchair area of check-in. I found this out as I was trying to pull over to the curb at our airline check-in.
There was an officer directing cars away from parking as I arrived. I rolled down my window to tell the officer that I had to park and leave my car to get my mom into the building and seated. She politely, but directly told me I only could do that at the handicap entrance, which was at the other end of the terminal. And I could only leave the car for a few moments.
Imagine had I not spoken to the officer, my mom would have had to walk quite a distance just to get to the wheelchair area and I may have been ticketed just for giving my mom the assistance she needed.
Once at the right entrance, we pulled up, parked and I walked over to help my mom into the terminal. The same police officer was now at this entrance (yes she walked as I drove to the other end of the terminal drop off) and reminded me, politely, to come right back to my car. Even in a handicapp zone, you can’t park for long.
Inside the Airport
I gathered Mom, and we start our walk into the terminal. At this point she can’t see the chairs in the waiting area right in front of us about 50 or so feet away. But she trusts me to lead her to them as she holds onto my arm for support. Luckily, I left all bags in the car so it was just she and I.
As we are walking very slowly toward the waiting area for passengers needing a wheel chair, Mom holding on to me as we walk, a family of travelers decided to congregate right in our path. I know they meant no harm, but they were completely oblivious to us.
To make Mom walk around them didn’t seem in her best interests as I already told her the seats were right in front of us. Plus she already is in pain walking, why should she have to walk around them? Instead I started saying loudly, “Excuse us. Excuse us.” We were almost walking right through them before they noticed and moved out of the way.
Next Up… Security
Fast forward to going through security….. Her wheelchair agent felt Mom should not have to get up and walk through. We put her stuff through the machines and of course, Mom is worried because it’s her purse and of course she carries cash. Thinking it would be just a few minutes, I walked through security to ensure her purse was secured and so did her agent.
I watched as people walked around my mom, pushing their items through the machines and walking through the metal detectors, again, oblivious to my mom just sitting there. It was like she was just in the way. Not another passenger who just happened to need extra help.
I asked her agent what was up and he said they were waiting for a female agent. But there was a female agent standing to the side, waving all the other passengers through.
Frustrated, I went to the TSA agent in the make shift office and told him what was happening. That my mom was alone on the other side of security, and no one was doing anything to get her through. He walked over, seemed to speak to my mom. Next thing I know, they are making her get up and out of the wheelchair and walk through the metal detector. I still don’t understand the whole process, but she was finally next me.
When we landed in Philly, of course we had another wheelchair ready. As Mom was being wheeled to baggage claim, again, it was like she was invisible. A woman, with her cell phone in hand, her husband walking in the opposite direction and her talking to him, walking backwards, literally walked right into my mom’s wheelchair! I mean right into her! Her wheelchair agent tried moving her out of the way, but the woman just kept coming, even with me saying quite loudly, “watch out!”.
What I Noticed
Now nothing happened to my mom in any of these scenarios and we managed “ok” throughout the trip. But what I observed, what I witnessed, is that as a society we do not notice others. We do not notice those who need extra care. We go about our lives and we don’t even blink when we see a person struggling, or alone or needing assistance.
I told this story yesterday to a friend I walk with. She was suprised that I was just noticing all this. She went on to tell me about a disable man, who years ago crawled off a plane because of a mix up with his wheelchair and not one person offered to help him. No flight attendant or pilot. No passenger. I couldn’t believe this actually happened, but yep, it did. https://time.com/4088493/united-disabled-man-crawl-off-plane/
As a society, have we really become oblivious to the human beings around us? Are we so self-absorbed we don’t notice when others need help?
Gratitude and Compassionate Well-being
I am grateful I am mobile and can travel without assistance. It is something that I think until this trip I took for granted. I also think I probably was one of those people, concerned only with making my own flight and not noticing others like my mom who may have needed some help. This trip has changed all that for me.
I want to be more compassionate. To notice when people need help. And I want to be the one to help them as well.
Compassion is something our society lately is lacking. Whether it’s mask mandates, vaccines, helping a neighbor, so many of us live with our own beliefs and rarely stop and have compassion and empathy for others. Our politics are so divisive, we can’t even fathom that the other side may a legitimate point. If it’s not our belief, it must not be true. It must not be important.
This kind of behavior does not support society’s well-being, let alone our own. Our well-being is strengthened when we feel a connection for others. Not just those in our circle, but all humans, all life. Living a compassionate life strengthens our well-being. When we are connected, our own life has more meaning.
I had almost given up on society as I pulled up to passenger pick-up area. Again,I had to leave Mom alone on a bench as she waited for me to go get the car. There is just no other option that I know of.
Another person, completely oblivious to the backlog of cars waiting to pull-in was doubled park, waiting for his passenger at the handicap area of pick-up. This was blocking me and everyone from pulling into the handicap parking space. Somewhat obnoxiously, I maneuvered my car around him and swung into the space. I was frustrated and almost ready to tell him off, but instead calmly got out of the car and walked to my mom sitting alone on the bench.
As I started helping Mom up guiding her to the ramp down to the street so she didn’t have to step off the curb, a man approached us and offered his assistance. We both declined and said we were fine, but he insisted. He asked, “Is that your car? Let me get the door for her.” And he did. He opened the door and said a few nice words as he helped Mom into the car. He closed the door and walked back over to his wife.
I got into the car as I said thank you to the man and ensured Mom was settled. The car blocking me had driven away. I pulled out and felt gratitude for this gentleman who did little to help, but he offered. He noticed. He had compassion.
My faith in humankind renewed.