White People

Up too early this morning, but I figure I’ll go back to bed in a couple of hours. The quiet in the house at this hour is lovely.

I’ve been thinking about the protests, especially in Louisville, and how overwhelming it feels. It’s hard to imagine how we can come to terms with the police and the political systems at this point, and that worries me. At the same time, I think about how long we’ve known that our systems are inherently biased to favor white people and how little we’ve done to remedy it in systemic ways.

I think about Dr. Joy DeGruy Leary, who has been talking about Post-Traumatic Slavery Syndrome for at least 15 years. We have made some progress in some places on offering support for black people around that. Not surprisingly, that’s happening in the context of mental health, so the work of healing is on the people that our systems have oppressed.

Healing is great, but when we offer services and maintain the systems that cause harm then we’re just creating a never ending stream of people who need those services. I think those services are necessary and important. It seems that the work is often being done by black people, which is good. But “providing services” is almost never a solution.

I think about the documentary “Uncommon Causes,” which was released nationally in 2008 and explores the social determinants of health and how race and class are factors that contribute to disparities regardless of individual health choices. I remember seeing a preview of the part of it that focuses on Louisville in 2005 or 2006 and thinking this would bring about huge changes in how we do things.

Of course, that has not happened. What has happened is that we point out the disparities over and over. Headlines read, “Black Americans more likely to get cancer/ get diabetes/ have high blood pressure/ die in childbirth/ die younger.” Over and over, we trumpet that news without the context of social determinants. Without changing the systems that maintain the disparities.

We have heard and seen, over and over, data that shows how racism plays out in the world. Disparities in school suspensions, racial profiling of black drivers, differences in arrest rates and sentence length, job opportunities, and so much more. Over and over, we have seen this and haven’t responded with real change.

We don’t change things because we – white people – benefit from the system as it is. The police tend to protect us – even if we just say, “There’s a black person here and I’m scared.”

We know that our social services such as Child Protective Services treat people differently based on race. Black people are more likely to have their children removed; white people are more likely to be offered supportive services. We have data that shows us this, and have had for a long time. It can be argued that this isn’t always a benefit for white kids, but in general it benefits white families.

The school system favors us. I heard that a black educator talking about schools was saying that white parents needed to give up the idea of “choice” with our charter schools and magnet programs and allow more room for black people to define what the education system looks like to meet the needs of black children. And my first thought? “Oh, but I love the Montessori program at my grandkids school! Surely I don’t have to give that up!”

Well, maybe not. Maybe my grandkids will still get to attend the charter school we love. But we’re going to have to give up something. We can’t end a racist system that’s existed in one form or another for hundreds of years, a system that benefits us white people, without giving up something.

Let me say this again. As things stand, the systems we have generally benefit white people. No, not all the time, not every single white person in every situation. Not all cops are bastards, not all men are sexist, not all white people are evil racists. It is almost never all or nothing. But in general, it is really clear that we white folks are more likely to get benefits and accommodations, support and protection. But only as long as we go along with the program.

You can see what’s happening with the protesters. Once white people step outside of the system, once we refuse to accept the status quo, we begin to lose privilege. Not all at once and not completely. But the unspoken agreement is that in order to benefit from white privilege, we pretty much need to maintain the system. The horrible, unfair, racist system that we say we don’t want.

I don’t have a great ending for this. Don’t have the perfect call to action. I guess the challenge, if you’re white, is to ask yourself what you are willing to give up to create a more equitable society. What are we willing to do?

This is the path ahead of us. Unclear. Unmarked. What do we do?

Time to Begin Again

It’s been over 2 years since I posted here. I think I’ve completely changed my life since that last post about visiting museums with my sister and brother-in-law. It’s occurred to me that I need a space where I can talk. Just talk about what’s going on with me and how I experience it. Hardly anybody reads me here, and the people who do are friends, so this seems like a good place to do it. At some point, I might make this private with invited readers only.

But for now, I’m just going to leave my thoughts here. Things I might talk about:

  • Surviving the pandemic with my daughter, grandkids, and significant other, Dee.
  • Getting more healthy and fit.
  • Learning how to teach Mindful Self Compassion
  • Building my business as a Trauma Sensitive Consultant and Coach
  • The protests and the need for structural changes to move toward racial equity
  • The adventures Dee and I have riding electric trikes
  • Trips to the beach
  • Who knows what else?

These are not going to be carefully planned and crafted, it’s more like a journal. Just talking about what’s on my mind. Probably short, cause who has time for more? Comments and discussion are welcome.

At the beach with the grandkids yesterday. Expect selfies…

Super Museum Sunday in Savannah

Sure, you’ve heard of the Super Bowl, and it happens on a Sunday, but it’s not nearly as exciting as Super Museum Sunday in Savannah.  On this Sunday, many, many museums offer free admission.  It’s a chance to visit art and history on the cheap – always a plus.

It being my first year in Savannah, I decided to take full advantage of it.  Dee and I started out with the Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum.  The Eighth Air Force was instrumental in the Allies winning World War II, so you can imagine how much history there is to be shared.  And airplanes to look at.

I discovered that I am apparently the only person in my family that didn’t already know Jimmy Stewart was in the Air Force.  But I was excited about that story.  Good ole Jimmy Stewart, right?

I’m not really a fan of airplanes (who knew?) but this snippet of history was fascinating. Apparently there was a comics character called Lace or “Miss Lace,” created by Milton Caniff, the same person who gave us Terry and the Pirates and Steve Canyon.  (You would have to be old to remember them – I barely do, and wasn’t a big fan of them.)  But Miss Lace was developed for GI’s in WWII and her character seems to have walked the line between sex siren and girl next door.   I could write a whole essay on that, from today perspective.

We were about to leave the museum when I noticed a table with books and a woman seated behind it with a pen – yes! An author signing!  Of course I had to stop.  The books are an adventure, time-travel series – the main characters are in middle school, and there are four books – The Snipesville Chronicles.   I only bought the first one, Don’t Know Where, Don’t Know When.  ($11.00, well spent.)  Just reading the foreword has been delightful, and I have a feeling I’ll have to buy the other three.

After we had exhausted the pleasures of the Mighty Eight Museum, Dee dropped me off downtown to meet up with Julia and Terry to check out some other places (while he pursued other Sunday afternoon interests.)  While waiting, I discovered this tasty treat.

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Yes, it’s a milkshake – vanilla – with two shots of espresso  Could not have been lovelier.  And only $5.50!!

Having finished that quickly, I was ready to visit the home of Juliet Gordon Low, aka Daisy, founder of the Girl Scouts.  I had a book about her when I was a child, so it was like visiting an old friend.  I did learn some new things – or things I had forgotten.

Juliet became deaf in one ear following an incident with a piece of rice thrown at her wedding.  I am not making this up.  The piece of rice lodged itself in her ear and would not budge.  Eventually, in the efforts to get it out, the doctor (presumably) punctured her eardrum.  Her friends often commented, laughing, that if you tried to tell Juliet “no,” she just “turned her deaf ear to you so she couldn’t hear you.”

Juliet was an adventurer, and one of my childhood heroes.

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(Drawing of a car about to slide backwards off a cliff.  In Daisy’s handwriting, it reads, “It was a perfect miracle that I was not killed, love to Anna and to you, yours, Daisy.  Below that, typed, it says, “Daisy was quite the  traveler.  In this 1923 letter to Mary Gale Carter, she illustrates a harrowing adventure.) 

I had not realized there was actually a comic book about her, but was so delighted by it that I had to buy a copy in the book store.   (I know, free museum, $16 for books, and $5.50 for the coffee milkshake, and another $8 for girl scout cookies…)  I posted a page from the comic book below – they have a large one on display.  But you can check out the whole comic book here.

 

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(Picture is a page from a comic book, picturing Juliet in England as a nurse and a creator of iron gates.)

Juliet was an artist – she painted and sculpted and did iron work and many other things, but most importantly for us, she was driven to create a program for girls that would teach them how to do all the things themselves.

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(My sister and I standing behind the statue of Juliet Low in the garden.)  

You might think that we were worn out from all the museum-ing, and we did need a small snack to refresh our energy, but we still had a couple of good museums left in us.  I will pause here and come back later to tell you about the King-Tisdel Cottage and the Beach Institute (named after Alfred Ely Beach, and not the sandy area by the ocean.)

 

 

Thoughts on Thanksgiving

I wish I could separate this day of thanksgiving from our history of murdering Indigenous People and destroying their culture. I keep trying to figure out how to celebrate all the things I have to be grateful for without dismissing the history around this day. I haven’t quite figured out how to do it, but I think part of it might be holding lots of gratitude for the people who’ve helped me, challenged me, walked with me, and pointed me in a different direction.
I’m not entitled to that help, it’s not owed to me, but I’ve gotten it, from so many people – from family to teachers, clients, clinic escorts, people I used to go to church with, co-workers, people who grow food, prepare it, and serve it, construction workers who build things and mechanics who fix them, and on and on and on. I want to recognize and hold appreciation for all of them, especially today.
I was looking for a picture to post with this, and noticed what interesting ideas we have about being thankful. We tell people they should be grateful because it could be worse, be grateful because it will make you feel better, or be grateful because God likes it. There often feels like an underlying threat to me – be grateful or else… Ooooh like the story of The Wish Fish!
In that old fairytale, a fisherman catches a magical fish who promises to grant his wishes if he will set the fish free. The fisherman and his wife are very poor and so he asks for something simple. The fish happily grants that wish and the fisherman goes home. His wife is appalled that he asked for so little. (The story is sometimes called the Greedy Wife.) She keeps sending him back to ask for more until the fish gets so angry that he takes away all the wishes he’s granted and leaves them just like he found them. Obviously, a cautionary tale about wanting too much, being too demanding, and not appreciating what you have.
Our messages about Thanksgiving often remind me of that story.
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That’s not the stance I want to take. I want to be thankful without threats and thankful without looking for the pay-off.
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And I don’t want to direct the thanks to some supreme being, regardless of whether or not there is one.  If I’m grateful to God for sending me this person or that thing, grateful to God for giving me shelter and food and so on, then it seems like I’m imagining a God who portions these things out. “Here, you can have these supports and these blessings in abundance, but I’m not giving everyone all this stuff. Just the people who deserve it, or just the people who appreciate it,” or whatever rationale you use for God letting people starve to death.
I think that’s how the colonists saw it. “Thank you God for sending us these Indians to help us.” So the Indigenous People were seen as tools God sent to keep the Pilgrims alive rather than wonderful people in their own right who generously helped. Or grudgingly helped. Whatever.
And that kind of thanks is not what I want to do. I want to see the big picture, just for minute – be able to see the overwhelming vast network of people who help make life alll the wonderful things it is. And then to imagine each of those people, with their own lives, their own stories, their own struggles. And for a moment, to be able to hold all of that with appreciation for what it is.
Have a lovely Thanksgiving. ❤

 

 

Day Two: Hidden Horrors

In today’s adventure — we were starting a training. One of the participants had started a fresh pot of coffee. As we were wrapping up introductions, she got a funny look on her face and moved as if she were going to get up. My co-trainer Sarah Cannady said, “Oh, is the coffee ready?”

The participant said, “Nooooo, it’s not the coffee,” and pointed to the floor, at the edge of the room. Suddenly, people in that area were jumping up and moving away, just like in a horror movie, and all I could think was, “Omg, it’s a really big bug, or a mouse – I should run!” But nope, it was neither of those things.

It was a snake. Which was a great relief to me, but sent several people scrambling to get out of the room as quickly as they could. One brave soul trapped it with a garbage can while we waited for help. Fortunately, someone from the Environmental Protection agency was passing by and, unperturbed by the scary snakiness, she removed him from the room.

 

 

Whew! We didn’t really need coffee after all that excitement!!

In other news, the ferry I was supposed to catch in the morning has been cancelled due to mechanical repairs. I had to choose between a later ferry or driving around to a different ferry. I’m going to drive. It will take longer, but I can leave earlier and get there earlier, and I’m sure it will be interesting.

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The blue line is the way I was going to go. The grey line is the new route. It includes a ferry ride, but much more driving.

 

 

Day One: The Lake

So I had gone to the grocery with the intention of having crackers and cheese and fruit for dinner. However, the B&B woman’s husband was telling me about how to get to this one restaurant with wonderful food. He was promoting the fried chicken special, which is made with lard and therefore delicious. That didn’t really appeal to me (sorry, I grew up with olive oil, not lard.) But then he showed me how to get there, which involved driving over this HUGE lake – Lake Mattamuskeet.

So I went for the lake, but stayed for dinner.

The lake went on for miles. I took a couple of pictures on the way down – notice the very cool bird in the first picture! You do literally just drive through the middle of the lake.

The restaurant had some of the most delicious grilled trout I ever had. Potatoes au gratin and baked apples on the side. One piece of cornbread and one beaten biscuit, which I had with the apples for dessert.

Driving back home, the light was lovely and the lake was even more picturesque. Stopped to walk out on a little fishing pier and noticed a couple of men fishing on the other side of the road. I considered the possibility that they were poaching or doing something illegal and would have to kill me, thereby making all of this just an intro to a terrific murder mystery.

But, as you can see, either they weren’t doing anything illegal or they realized I was too ignorant to know what they were doing, so they didn’t have to kill me (Yes, I really have these thoughts.) We chatted for a few minutes, as they came over to my side of the road and were casting their net in the water. They caught a few fish immediately that were looking pretty big to me, but they seemed disappointed. Then I was able to drive on back to my lovely B&B.

On Losing My Voice

You may have heard me complaining all over the internet that I had lost my voice. Monday, the day we left Mexico and the world’s most adorable grandchildren, I could only talk in a low whisper. It didn’t bother me that much while we were traveling. I’d had a cold all week and didn’t feel great anyhow, so it was kind of relaxing to not be expected to make conversation.

Tuesday, I went to the nurse practitioner, who gave me antibiotics for a sinus infection, cough medicine, and steroids for my throat. Despite speaking only in a whisper, I was able to challenge her belief that lots of women just suddenly change their mind and decide to have an abortion at 24 weeks.  But that’s a story for a different day.

As the week wore on, I didn’t feel bad, I just couldn’t talk much – or couldn’t be heard. I typed. I was grateful that my job is flexible enough to accomodate not talking.  I learned some things.

I learned that sometimes people don’t actually need me to talk. Twice – not once, but two times – people reached out to me and talked about what was going on with them, and were able to resolve their own issues, without a single word from me.  Just talking through what was going on with them was all they really needed.

I learned that in other conversations, where my input was needed, people were really good about stopping to give me time to think and type. It is not as easy as you might think to carry on an actual conversation via chat box. People were patient and kind.

Of course, I wondered why I had lost my voice. I can’t remember the last time this happened. Dee suggested maybe it was because of the cold medication I had been taking, but I didn’t think so. As a therapist, I wondered if it was symbolic, if there was a psychological reason.

Maybe, I pondered, I haven’t been speaking up enough. Maybe I’ve metaphorically lost my voice, and now it’s manifesting physically. Or maybe this is an experience in empathy, to increase my understanding of what it’s like to be voiceless in some way.

I wasn’t dreadfully upset about it – I could still whisper when I needed to and it was restful in an odd way. It made me listen more attentively and kept me from interrupting or completing other people’s sentences, which I’ve been known to do. And it was kind of interesting.

But Saturday morning – starting day 6 without a voice – it was getting a bit old. As I mentioned it (again) on Facebook, someone suggested a rememdy. “Th***t C**t tea,” he said, “and R***la throat drops.”

Amazingly, I already had the tea in my cabinet. I hadn’t been using it, I’d been doing all kinds of other tea instead. But there it was, just waiting for me. I fixed a cup of tea instead of a second cup of coffee and headed out.

In my car, I was looking for Kleenex under the dashboard and wondering if it would be worth stopping for the throat drops when I pulled out – a bag of R***la throat drops. Seriously. (No, I didn’t find the Kleenex. You can’t have everything.)

So I drank my tea and had a couple of throat drops – and I could talk. Not perfectly. But I could actually talk. If I’d been at 25% of my voice before, I moved up to 60 or 70%. Pretty amazing.

So amazing that of course I decided it must have been psychosomatic in the first place. I mean, really, how can a cup of tea and two throat drops be that kind of miracle? But that’s ok. There’s still a big take-away here.

Here’s what I think the lesson is. We talk about needing to have the right tools to find solutions and solve problems. But it’s not just a matter of having the right tool. We have to know that it’s the right tool. I had lots of remedies – teas and medicine and extracts and even hot toddies. And I had exactly what I needed (apparently) and just didn’t realize it until someone else suggested it.

It makes me wonder how often I have the solution lying around in my “tool kit” neglected and unused.  And will I remember to look at all my tools the next time I need them?

Tybee Island with my Sister: Pictures tell the story.

My last day on Tybee Island started, of course, with sunrise.

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After coffee and spending some time on FB and eating cereal and so on, it was time to go bike riding with Julia.  Here’s what we had planned:

Yes, intrepid bike riders, pedaling around the island.

Instead, both the bike shops were closed – it was Monday.  Apparently, that’s the wrong day for bike riding.

So what could we do?

fullsizeoutput_18a0We walked to the pier, got some woman to take our picture (with the sun in our eyes and my hair all over the place.)  Then we went to Fannie’s on the Beach, where we had a lovely plate of steamed oysters.

img_2164Content with that, we wandered the streets of Tybee for a while, especially Chu’s Department Store.  We were tempted by the hoodies and t-shirts, admired a bowl, glanced at the fishing supplies, and thought about buying some Savannah honey.

Eventually, we decided we needed a glass of wine.  Back on the street, there were so many places we could have gone – and we chose Doc’s.  Julia thought it looked like a bar we knew back in the day – Hikes Point Bar and Lounge, to be exact – and indeed, it did.

It was actually much darker than the pictures.  Thanks, i-phone.

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We enjoyed a glass of wine, and had some conversation with the bartender. Overhearing her phone call with her 11 year old daughter had me remembering my days of motherhood in all too vivid color.  And it made us laugh.  The bartender was glad that I could reassure her that it does get easier.  Or different anyhow.

After all that, we had worked up an appetite, so we went to find our menfolk and get dinner.  Stingray’s was an easy choice for dinner – Julia and I split the seafood platter.  Oh. My. Goodness.

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And a good time was had by all.

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Lessons from the Hot Tub

I was in Florida for work.  Pulled a muscle in my back getting dressed (yes, you can do that.) Decided to hang out in the hot tub during the pre-dinner break.  It was cloudy, no one was swimming, and I chose the hot tub that was empty.  Relaxing in the heat, water pounding against my back was heavenly.

I was in the area marked “Adults Only,” but when the man with his young daughter appeared and asked if I minded if they joined me, I didn’t mind at all.  The little girl was maybe 3, curly blonde hair, pink bathing suit, pink plastic sandals, still wearing her little inflatable life vest.  She was shivering.

“The pool was too cold for her, ” the dad says as he slides down into the heated whirlpool.  “Here honey,” he says, “Get in, this is warm.”

But she pulls back, shakes her head, “no, no, it’s too hot.”

He shakes his head.  “It’s not too hot, come on, get in.”

I laugh, “Like Goldilocks, that pool’s too cold, this one’s too hot – where’s the ‘just right’ pool?”

Dad continues to urge little Goldilocks into the pool, until she agrees to sit on the side. She dips her feet, still encased in little pink plastic sandals, in the water, then pulls back, “no, too hot.”

“No, it’s not,” Dad insists.  “Just try it.”  He grasps both her ankles in one hand and pulls her feet into the water, holding them there.

From the other side of the hot tub, I’m at eye level with her feet.  I can see her resisting at first, trying to pull away, but he holds firm.  He doesn’t release her ankles until she relents.  Then he lets go.

“See,” he says, “It’s not too hot.”  She doesn’t say anything.  She’s still shivering, even though her feet are in the water.

Goldilocks’ grandfather comes by.  “You should get in there,” he says, all gruff.  “Go ahead, get in!”  She shakes her head.

Grandmother comes to join us.  “It’s too hot for her in here,” she says, looking at me rather than Dad.

I smile, “And she knows that!  That’s why she’s not all the way in.  She already knows it’s too hot.”

Grandmother agrees, “She’s little bitty, she doesn’t have an ounce of fat on her, it’s too hot for her.”

Dad ignores us.

Mom, holding a baby, comes to sit on the edge of the tub.  We chat a bit – where are we from, how long are we staying, and yes, the water is really hot.  Goldilocks is still sitting on the edge of the tub, feet in the water, shivering.

“Are you cold?” says Dad.  Her teeth are chattering, she nods.  “You should get in,” he says, “Want me to put you in?”

She shakes her head, “No.”

“Hot,” she says.

“Come on,” he says, “I’ll just dip you to the waist.”

“No,” she says, softly, but the head shaking is a bit frantic.

“It’s not too hot,” he says, and he begins scooping water in his hand and pouring it over her legs.

Remember, I am at eye-level with her feet and legs.  I watch him pour water on one leg while she pulls it up, trying to move it out of his range.  He switches to the other leg, and she pulls that one out, shaking her head, “No.”

She doesn’t cry. She doesn’t protest loudly, she doesn’t have a tantrum.  She is a good girl, our little Goldilocks.  But she keeps trying to get her legs away from the relentless stream of water that feels too hot to her.

I leave the hot tub.  I can’t stay and watch her Dad – by all other evidence, a kind and loving Dad – I won’t stay and watch him teach her that how her body feels doesn’t matter. That her saying, “no,” is pointless.

In a wildly inappropriate moment, I want to ask his wife, “Is he like that about sex.  Does he try to talk you into it?  Does he keep doing stuff you don’t like while he tells you, yes, you do like it?”

Ok, time to go.  There are three hot tubs in this hotel.  I don’t have to give up my hot tub pleasure, I just move to one that’s empty.  And from that distance, I ponder.

I may be oversensitive.  The election of our racist, misogynistic President has heightened my already acute awareness of how we control female bodies.  That Dad wasn’t “abusive.”  He wasn’t scalding her.  He wasn’t even mean about it.

And he gently and relentlessly showed her that how her body feels doesn’t matter.

It’s not like he was making her take medicine, or get vaccinated.  No health or safety reason to override her need to be comfortable in her body.  He ostensibly wanted her to enjoy herself.

The women around her acknowledged that she was right – that her body was right – they agreed, the water was too hot for her.  But they didn’t offer any help.  They could have brought her a beach towel.  She could have sat on the edge, quite cozy, wrapped in a big fluffy towel.  I don’t think it even occurred to them.

Maybe I’m making too much of it.  But I keep seeing her skinny three year old legs, pink plastic sandals still on her feet, trying to pull away from the water.

And I keep thinking that somewhere in this story is the reason some of those white women voted for Trump.  If you learn that it doesn’t matter what your body wants when you’re three, if you learn not to trust your own best instincts at three years old, when do you learn to trust yourself?  How do you know that it matters?

 

 

With Appreciation

The last couple of trips my partner, Dee, and I have taken to Mexico, he’s been having some issues with mobility, so we’ve needed a wheelchair to get from one flight to the next.  It’s been awkward and odd and amazing.

Overwhelmingly, I am grateful that airports have a system designed to allow us to travel.  I had no idea.  When we ask for a wheelchair, a staff person is assigned to push it.  That person may go with us to pick up luggage and take it though customs, walk us through immigration and document checks, and go through security.  They may be with us for 15 minutes or for hours.

It’s no longer just me and Dee traveling, we’re a little parade.  Dee and the wheelchair and the staff person, me, and often a second staff person with the luggage.  There are some benefits.  We breeze through immigration and customs now.  No waiting in line for security.

The staff people are invariably nice and helpful.   In Mexico City, they don’t always speak any English, which matches our lack of Spanish speaking skill, but Dee makes an effort to communicate and they do too and it all works out.

Well, that one time when we wandered around the airport for about 3 hours trying to find our luggage and figure out what we were supposed to do to get a flight the next day was not so much fun.  Our person kept stopping to ask different people for advice, they would speak rapidly in Spanish, with some gesticulating, and I wasn’t sure what he was even asking, much less what they were saying.  Then he would be back, taking the wheelchair in hand, heading off in some direction, and all I could do was follow him.  At one point, he gestured to me that I had to go through some security check – I didn’t know why, but the security guy spoke a little English, and he explained that they needed me to look for our luggage.  So I headed back into some baggage area, while our guy and Dee headed off in the opposite direction to “los banos,” and I did wonder what would happen if I came back and they were just gone.

What would I do then?

But they were there when I came back, and I had the luggage too, so it was all good.

We had a young woman in Charlotte who was warm and reassuring.  “Don’t worry,” she said, “You’ve got plenty of time to make the next flight,” and of course she was right.  In Charlotte, their system involved her getting us to the right cart, which then carried us on to the right gate, where they had a wheelchair to get us to the door of the aircraft.  The young woman and I chatted for a minute or two – she’s just working at this until she can get a job with one of the airlines, and then she’ll be able to travel.  She was telling me about the many places she wants to go, and I hope she gets to do that.

I’ve begun to see the networks of people who staff the airports and the way they relate to each other.  Sometimes, our person – our helper? I don’t know what the right term is – but sometimes they’re really outgoing, flirting and joking with everyone along the way.  Sometimes they’re more quiet, but alway helpful and kind.

Yesterday, we left Mexico City, landed in Dallas, headed for home.  The wheelchair attendant (there, does that sound better?) is a soft-spoken woman, wearing a burkha.  Her name tag reads “Ayisha.”   She is pleased to hear we have three hours between flights, “Plenty of time,” she says, “No need to hurry.”

She directs us.  “You’ll need your passport and boarding pass,” or “show him this form with your passport,” telling me, “follow me,” or “you go ahead.”  We move a bit more smoothly than usual.

We are delayed at security.  “Only two wheelchairs can go at a time,” she says,  “so we just wait.  Sometimes, people get so upset, but it’s ok, there’s lots of time.”

We get to customs, and she helps us scan our passports, answer the appropriate questions (no, we have not visited a farm) and get our pictures taken.  With our printouts in hand, we are heading on, when a male voice behind us says, “Ayisha, help her with this!”

She turns, I turns – Dee is up ahead just a bit – and there’s an older woman in a wheelchair in front of the machine, passport in hand, saying querulously, “I don’t know how to do this.  I don’t know how.”

Ayisha says to the man staffing the wheelchair, “You can help her,” but he turns his head away, and the woman in the chair says again, “I don’t know how to do this.”

I think Ayisha is going to say something sharp to the man, I think she starts to, or maybe I just want her to, but she doesn’t.  Instead she takes the woman’s passport and shows her how to insert it to start the process.  She gently and kindly walks her through the couple of minutes it takes to complete it.  Then, without waiting for thanks, she turns and we move on.

“Why didn’t he help her?”  I ask.

“Oh, he’s very  – busy,” she says, in a tone that I think means he thinks he’s too important to do that.

“But – he was right there, he could have helped her,” I say.

“Yes,” she agrees, “He could have,” and she says it in a tone that allows me to let go of my own frustration at what seems like him being unreasonable.

We pick up our luggage – two bags, about 40 pounds each – and Ayisha stacks them on a cart.  She takes the wheelchair with one hand, the cart with the other, and starts off.  “Oh, I can help with that,” I say, meaning the luggage, but she laughs.  “I’ve got it,” she says.

I’m a bit awed.  Often the wheelchair person will take one bag and ask me to push the other – which is fine if we aren’t going miles.  And sometimes they’ll recruit a second person to help.  But she’s handling both wheelchair and baggage as if it’s nothing.  “I’ve been doing this job for 15 years.  Sometimes,” she says, “I push two wheelchairs.”

She hands the luggage off again effortlessly.

We’re about to get on an elevator – there’s a couple standing there with a full cart of luggage, about to go up.  Ayisha says, “Are you going to check your luggage?”  They shake their heads no.  “Are you looking for a taxi?”  Nods this time.  “You need to go that way,” she says, pointing.  Off the elevator they come, heading down the hall in the right direction.

“How did you know they were going the wrong way?”

She shakes her head, “Easy, you don’t need to go up with luggage.  You either go that way to check in baggage, or the other way to go out.  You don’t go up.”

We are pre-TSA, but are delayed while they check Dee’s hands for evidence of explosives and pat him down from head to toe.  “He is new,” Ayisha says, talking about the security guy.  “He doesn’t have to do all that, he was pre-TSA, but that guy, he’s new, new ones, they always do too much.”

She delivers us to an electric cart, “You stay with this cart,” she says, “Don’t  take any other one, this one take you all the way to your gate.”  I assure her we will, and thank her profusely, as she sends us off with a smile and a wave.

I hate for Dee that he’s had to use a wheelchair.  I would not have chosen this experience for either of us.  But I am left with such lovely images of the network of people who make it possible for us to travel.  So many times, I’ve seen wheelchairs at the end of the ramp as I exit the plane, without giving them another thought.  Now I feel connected to the people who do that work day after day.   And to Ayisha, who did it with such warmth, dignity, and grace.

 

 

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