Some of you know that I have just taken a big leap… I left Arizona, my home, my hounds and new husband to embark upon an exiting adventure in education in private industry. I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to work for Miller, the best welding company in the country. With that said, I have sacrificed a great deal to be here. Those close to me (mentioned above) are the highest on my list, but I have also given up sunshine, warm weather, low humidity, mountains, rock climbing, desert beauty and hiking nearly any day of the week. Don’t get me wrong, there are amazing opportunities up here in the frozen tundra, as well, but I am outside of my comfort zone. I know no one and I am uncertain of how to navigate some days.
This evening I flew back from Phoenix, after completing the Phoenix Rock n’ Roll 1/2 Marathon. My husband John and I registered for this race back in May so we figured we should follow through with it and meet up in Phoenix. I flew out Friday night, had a great weekend in the desert, a great time along the race course and met a lot of nice people. In my usual style, I could have finished a few minutes faster but slowed down to help another runner through a tough spot. John and I met up at the end, enjoyed the B-52′s concert and a free Mic Ultra (such as it is). Biting our nails, we groaned as we watched the Packer’s lose to the Giants. Then we went out to a nice dinner together. We try not to dwell on the 2300 miles between us during our daily lives. We maximize our time. But, sometimes, I do complain, if even only to myself.
Today I needed to return to reality. Flights were long and I paid an extra $75 to catch an earlier connection to my final destination. That flight was delayed and I wondered if my added expense would even be worth it. At the gate, there were several businessmen milling about, hoping to get to their hotels in enough time to catch some sleep before their big meetings in the morning. I spotted one guy who looked particularly crabby. He wasn’t pitching a fit or anything; he was simply giving off that, “I’m cranky” vibe. As luck would have it, when we boarded the delayed plane, I was in the last row (next to the toilet), seated next to Mr. Grumpy Pockets. I made polite conversation and he began to speak. I would have just fine popping in my headphones for the 32 minute flight. But, as many of you know, I have *that* face. People tell me their life story. It’s OK, I’m used to it. I listened as he bitched about his series of delays out of Newark Airport and how he should have been in Wisconsin hours earlier. Then I remembered what my counseling program advisor, Dr. Diane Coursol, said at Minnesota State-Mankato: “If you want to understand someone, find their pain.” So, I asked very surface questions about his life, hoping to find his softer side. It turns out the reason he was upset about the delays is that he didn’t want to travel to begin with.
This man, Bob, from New Jersey, has been married for 27 years. His wife has Huntington’s Disease, an illness that exhibits a mixture of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s symptoms. His face softened as explained that after nine years of care-giving and holding down a full-time job as a chemist, he had to make the decision to place his wife in a nursing home. (Please note, neither Bob nor his wife are old enough for what we might think of as “nursing home material.”) He spoke with much sadness about his decision but said he couldn’t take it anymore. He described her characteristic bouts of rage and psychosis resulting from the disease. He then went on to explain that he continues to visit his wife every day after work and for several hours on weekends. She still recognizes him, although sometimes she has difficulty remembering his name, or even her own. He feeds her dinner and they watch a movie together. Bob told me he has seen more chick flicks than he would ever care to admit. He records them at home and then brings them in to watch with his wife. He said that they still feel very blessed. He described his wife as having an amazing sense of humor, despite all that she has been through. He said that they both understand they have seen and done things most other people have not. They have traveled to Europe, the Caribbean and all over the US. They chose not to have children years ago, as Huntington’s is a genetic disease and they had already lost his wife’s mother to it years earlier. He explained he tries not to travel much so she doesn’t have to be alone at night. Bob then described his wife’s cat and how he didn’t really consider himself a “cat person” but was living with the cat in a home he was re-modeling; it was a home he purchased to be closer to his wife’s care center.
The 32 minute flight went very quickly and I felt like I could have listened to this story for hours. After wishing Bob well and also wishing him a speedy return trip home the next day, I forced myself out into the cold wind in search of my Jeep. As I waited for the engine to warm up, I noticed my cup with 2″ of frozen tea. I saw the smoky grey sky as it met the dark grey asphalt, with only a row of lights in between and skeletons of trees on each side. I realized that if I had not talked to Bob on this redirected flight, I would likely have seen the Wisconsin grey as a downer, or at least as an experience to be endured. But now, thanks to Bob, I have been reminded of the many blessings in my life. I am also reminded of how good I have it, despite the distance and difficulty. I would like to quietly thank this total stranger, named Bob, for helping me to put my own life in perspective.
(As the country singer, Craig Morgan, would say, “This ain’t nothing.”)