Veterans’ Day 2013

My plane had landed at the Denver Airport thirty minutes late. As soon as I was able to disembark, I had to ran through the terminal corridors to gate 29 to catch my plane back to Palm Springs. Arriving fifteen minutes before boarding time, the gate is crowded except for one random empty chair at the end of the 6-chair handicapped row.

I refuse to take the seat. I squat down by a side wall as I glare angrily at a young twenty-something-year-old man who is lounging back in the last seat of the handicap chairs. He is wearing boots, jeans, and a black T-shirt. He is listening to music through headphones. He remains in the chair even when two elderly women, one on crutches, walk into the waiting area.

Finally, after several minutes, the Frontier Airlines counter clerk approaches the man. “Sir?! Sir, can you please move!? These women need the handicap seats!”

The man just looks up at the airline employee for a moment before placing both hands on the arms of the chair and pulling himself to his feet. A horrified expression covers the counter clerk’s face and the whole busy gate suddenly falls quiet as the man begins to move his body away from the chair. He walks across the room with his back in an unusual, extreme twist to the left that rotates his spine. The contortion pulls his left hip higher than his right and scrunches up the right side of his body. His body is almost bent double to his right side. With his right leg shorter than his left, he limps awkwardly and sways from side to side as he moves to stand in the center of the room, waiting to get on the plane.

I burn with shame as other people uncomfortably shuffle, turning their attention away from the young man as the counter clerk walks up to him to offer her apologies. He just nods his head and waves her away with a slight tense smile. The two elderly women slowly take the handicap seats and the noise level returns to normal. The moment eases, the tension relaxes, but those of us waiting by the gate have been changed. Lesson learned. You can never know how deeply another person has been hurt or how deep their suffering goes. Practice kindness….


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