Friday, April 1, 2016

The Woman in the Airport

A few weeks ago, I went to pick Lindsay up at O’Hare. I took Matt with me and told him I had to pick up a special package. It was great fun anticipating his joy when he would see it was actually Aunt Boo.

While we were waiting, we wandered around to try to find some planes to watch, which we soon learned was not possible from our location. I was remembering all the times plane-watching at an airport was a fun, and low-cost, activity back in the day, and although I understand the need for security in this new age, I am sad for all the kids who won’t get that experience anymore.

So we got some food and decided to sit on a bench in baggage claim to wait for our special delivery. A woman sat down next to us after a while. We chit-chatted as waiting people tend to do, nothing I can really remember, just small talk. She was quite taken with Matt, thought he was adorable, and talked with him also. He, being Matt, had plenty of things to tell her as well. After a bit, she asked me to watch her things while she went to the food kiosk. I said it would be no problem. As she walked away, in the back of my mind, I was thinking I didn’t really know her and I probably shouldn’t be so trusting, so I watched her. Sure enough, she did go to the food kiosk and came back with a fruity yogurt thing.

We continued to chat, and she told me the woman behind her at the kiosk asked if she was hungry, and she said she was. She went on to say the woman told her to pick whatever she wanted, and she would buy it for her.

While we were both saying how nice that was, I was realizing with shock (that I hopefully kept to myself), this very nice woman sitting with me must be homeless. I was trying to work all this out in my head. Why would a homeless woman be at the airport? Isn’t everyone at the airport either traveling or waiting for someone traveling? I scolded myself for being so comfortable in my world that this was all so surprising to me.

Her name was Linda. I let her in on the secret special delivery, and she was completely tickled by it. She told me about her three grown children. They check on her often, calling her on the phone they have provided for her. They want her to live with one of them, but she said, “Why should I impose on other people when I’m the one who has made such a mess of my life?”

She said she came in to get warm for a while. I asked her where she would sleep. She pointed to the bench we were on, but she said “they” have to wait until later when there aren’t as many people in the airport. I was surprised they were allowed to sleep there at all, and she said the police were actually very nice to them. That was good to hear because I have seen some not-so-nice authorities at that particular airport (another post for another time).

Back to Linda, she said around midnight the foot traffic really slowed down, and she could go to sleep. Then, she said, around five in the morning, the police would come around, shake them gently to wake them, and tell them it was time to get moving. She said one morning, she woke up with a $20 bill in her hand. I was very touched by all this, still scolding myself for living in my comfy little world where I’ve never worried about where to sleep or if I would get to eat that day.

She asked me if she could sit with us until Aunt Boo got there so she could watch the surprise. I said of course she could. She told Matt how she would often sit there waiting for packages also.

We talked about the latest political campaigns. She was well spoken and clearly knew what was happening in the world. We talked more about our children. There was no question she had been involved in raising hers, and they loved her very much. She said one of her daughters was in charge of her money. I’m sure there was some mental illness keeping her out on the streets, but I also saw this was a good person with a kind heart.

Then Lindsay arrived. I pointed to the “special delivery” so Matt would see her (he didn’t). She was finally standing right in front of him, saying, “I hear someone here is waiting for a special package.” It still took him a few seconds before he shouted, “Aunt Boo!!!” and jumped into her arms. Linda shared in our joy and was especially touched by Matt’s reaction because instead of asking if Lindsay had brought him anything, he asked how many days she would be there.

I introduced Lindsay to our new friend, and Lindsay responded warmly to Linda’s big hug. (I love that my girls are so kind.) And then it was time to go. I gave Linda the other half of my sandwich and a little bit of money. I didn’t want to be insulting to her, but she was happy to have it.

Then we hugged like old friends, and I knew this was a woman I would long remember with fondness. Little did I know the surprise that day would be on me.