Gendusa: The flight to Ft. Lauderdale
Published 10:33 am Thursday, January 26, 2017
I cannot count how many times I have boarded a Delta Flight leaving Atlanta at 10:10 a.m. and arriving at terminal 2 at the Fort Lauderdale International Airport. It is usually the one I am on when I go for a visit with my children and grandchild. I normally pick up my luggage on carousel 2 or 3.
This past Friday was no different, yet everything about it became surreal.
I sat in my aisle seat toward the back of the plane. I pulled out my newspaper, laptop, and notepad. I decided to not fasten my seat belt since the strangers who would be sitting in the middle and window seats had not yet arrived.
They were two of the last to board.
I always look around at the travelers on this flight, especially if it is close to the weekend. You see couples traveling to take a romantic cruise or groups boarding for a dream vacation. There are business travelers anxious to get home and folks, like me, just going for a weekend visit.
It was the same group: young, old and in-between.
A woman, a little older than myself, walked clumsily toward my row. She was followed by a tall, rather stately gentleman that nudged her forward as she slowly proceeded toward row 34.
I stepped into the aisle as he slid to his seat by the window. She fell into hers. As she did, she sat on both of our seat belts. She struggled to put her heavy leather purse underneath the seat in front of her. I helped her secure it.
Her gray hair was disheveled, her eyes wandered. She struggled to find her seatbelt.
“Ma’am I think you are sitting on them. Just raise up a bit, and I will get us situated,” I said, as her husband ignored his frazzled wife. He just stared out onto the tarmac.
Once the seat belts were straight and I secured mine, she did not know how to fasten hers. I reached to clasp hers around her waist and asked if she was comfortable. She nodded. The whole time, the husband is avoiding any involvement. He never spoke a word.
She thanked me graciously, and when she did, I noticed that she was a person that seemed worn, frayed, and unkempt. She donned a beautiful antique, platinum engagement ring and her leather purse was stunning. However, all else reeked of a dingy sadness.
As the plane rose in the air and I tried to work my crossword puzzle, she stayed on my mind. I usually can tune out a person on a plane. For someone who normally is a motor mouth, it is the one place you will find my mouth stalled.
We were barely off the ground when she started looking over her left shoulder to the rear of the plane. She repeated this, at least, 25 times. She lifted her large purse up to her lap and frantically started rummaging through it. She pulled the found cash out and crumpled it in her hand.
Finally, what she was looking for was coming up the aisle. I knew the minute I saw the snack cart, that this middle seat passenger was an alcoholic.
The flight attendant asked what I would like, and my flying companion, instead, interrupted and said, “I would like a vodka and orange juice. My husband wants a Diet Coke.” Then she thrust the dollars toward the attendant.
“Ma’am we only take debit and credit cards for alcohol.”
Suddenly, as if her husband was just brought in from one of the clouds flying by, he stated flatly, “No alcohol.”
Her raised arm lowered to her waist, her head bowed. Not another word was spoken.
A woman thrust into her later years fogged by alcoholism, misery, and loneliness. It oozed from her like thick goo that muddies everything in its wake. It had oozed its ugly way through what remained of the husband that once loved a woman so much he bought her an exquisite ring.
I will never know her name or her story. She is just a reminder that folks fall through the cracks of life all the time. The drug and alcohol addicts, the mentally ill, the lost and downtrodden people that we walk beside and with daily.
Some of us lend a hand or lend time and money. Some of us just ignore the problem or let the problem overtake our need to try.
I arrived at terminal 2. I walked down the escalator to baggage claim with an eerie, unsettling feeling. Two weeks ago, at this same terminal and carousel, a lone gunman shot and killed five unsuspecting travelers. Most were heading for that romantic cruise.
They were killed by someone they had just traveled with who also had fallen through the cracks of life. Warnings waved like red flags in this young man’s world, yet people stared out the window just so they didn’t have to witness the fall.
As human beings and God’s children we must look after one another. We must always be mindful of the lost and downtrodden that walk among us. We all need to battle for better research and care for the victims of brain illnesses and addictions.
The victims of these insidious diseases started out in life the same as we all did, just innocent passengers on a journey.
To love one another and have compassion is God’s work moving through our lives. We are called to bear one another’s burdens, never to ignore another’s pain.
Carousel 2 held my luggage. When I lifted it to walk out the door and into the sun, a little piece of my heart was still in the dark for all those lost to madness, illness, and indifference.
Lynn Walker Gendusa is a former LaGrange resident who currently resides in Roswell. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.