Every single one of the two million people who fly every day passes through the airport. Those people are there with purpose, whether to attend a funeral, go to a camp, or to return […]
Every single one of the two million people who fly every day passes through the airport. Those people are there with purpose, whether to attend a funeral, go to a camp, or to return home. They all have their goals, and the airport is a stepping stone on their way to achieve things. For me, Dallas Fort Worth is the place where I missed my connecting flight to San Luis Obispo for a journalism workshop. It is the place where I was stranded for nine hours. But by the time I left Dallas, I had seen and learned so much. Because Dallas is also the place where I met Linda, a 72-year old woman with cancer who wanted to finish her bucket list before she died.
Linda’s yearning to experience new things as an older woman was respectable, especially as our generation has much trouble trying something different. In class, on the ice, or on the field, teachers and coaches offered, “Do you want to try a new play?” or “Would you like to join the coup club?” My classmates had tendencies to shy away from opportunities, as they have never done it before. However, Linda did not.
I first saw her at the American Airlines help desk, where tens of people formed a snaking line in the cramped space. Sweating, I shrugged my jacket off, hitting the woman behind me: Linda. When I first looked back, I saw an old lady I can only describe as “coastal grandmother.” She had a light blue headband on with a white dress and blue heels. She was under five feet tall.
“Why are you here, honey?”
I shared my story about missing my flight. Linda shared,
“Oh, I just attended the most beautiful wedding reception for my nephew. It was so special, and nothing like I’d ever seen before. I had a splendid time.” She said she chose to attend their Muslim wedding instead of their Christian wedding the weekend before, because “I wanted to experience something new, something else.”
I was awed by how she was 72, and she still pursued uniqueness. For me, whenever I was placed into a situation I was not familiar with, I hesitated. For example, on my first day of field hockey camp, I judged it for being different from ice hockey and approached it with a preconceived opinion; seeing Linda with an open mind at her older age genuinely surprised me.
We decided to eat lunch together — two strangers in a busy airport who had no one else but each other. The one thing we did have in common was a lot of unexpected time. Linda embodied perseverance through problems that were significantly worse than those of young teens. For example, after our conversation, my broken nails and lost earrings felt like miniscule issues. I looked at Linda over my heap of buffalo wings to see her potato salad and corn.
“Would you like some, Linda?”
She declined, saying, “Too spicy for me, dear. I only eat soft foods. I have a feeding tube, you know. I’m missing large chunks of my spine.”
I’m sure my head popped up, surprised. My mother had badly injured her spine skiing, so to hear about Linda’s spine worried me. It also put her in a new light, one of a survivor and a fighter. As if that was not enough, Linda pointed to her stomach area.
“You see here, dear, it’s hollow. There’s nothing there, no stomach.”
At this moment, my emotional state was flabbergasted. In my mind, she barely had anything holding up her torso! There was little that could make this predicament worse, until Linda said,
“Don’t worry, angel. I’m still spiffy, though the cancer’s been slowing that down a bit.”
“Cancer?” I asked, stupidly. I could not believe the bad luck this grandma had. As an athlete, the prospect of losing parts of my body scared me a lot. I’d never met anyone missing an organ as important as the stomach, and her willingness to travel alone and be responsible for herself can only be called sheer force. She looked so frail in front of me, the spoon looking heavy in her hands as she scooped up some potato salad. Yet, she was a force, because who could pull off this sort of vacation in the condition she was in? I clearly remembered when my friend sprained her pinky and she acted as if the world was ending. I vowed to myself I would be like Linda, who, even with her unfortunate situation, kept a positive attitude and did what she wanted.
I admired Linda’s tenacity and sense of adventure. I listened as she recounted how she had sixteen countries she wanted to visit, out of a list she made in 2022. These were all the hometowns of her extended grandparents and great grandparents. Now, barely a year and a half later, she told me that she had three left to visit: Scotland, Croatia, and the Netherlands. I’d been to these places before, as I told Linda, and I thought it would truly be special when Linda saw the charming town of Split, Croatia, or Fife, Scotland. Croatia’s amiable culture and food would appeal to her a lot. For example, Peka, which is food “cooked under a lid,” is very soft and delicious, which Linda can enjoy. I told her it would be amazing to finish her bucket list in these towns where her ancestors were raised. The determination to do this as a dedication to her family was driven by love for the people she was surrounded by. During the time I spent with her, I felt that love and care too. She always made sure I was right behind her, that I was eating enough, that I was not cold, and not hot. I wanted to be able to support someone I care about, just like Linda.
My relationship with Linda was accidental, formed because of unfortunate circumstances, however, we turned it into something beautiful. We strolled around the airport, as she protected me, a 15-year-old girl, from “the vast airport full of crazy people,” according to Linda herself. I returned this favor by helping Linda find her flight. Linda’s gate and terminal changed four times over the course of a couple of hours. I was able to cross-reference many sources and deduce the right one at the end. On the AirTrain, for the third time that day, Linda said,
“Thank you so much, baby, you really saved me.”
I told her, “Bye,” because I could not think of how to condense everything I wanted to say to her, how I admired her, into a few seconds. She later texted me saying,
“I’m on the plane. Got at the gate four minutes to boarding. Thank you, Angel. You picked up the pieces when I started getting tired. You’re one heck of a 15 year old.” She told me she considered me one of her grandchildren now.
The impact a couple of hours could have on a bond between two people is very interesting, especially because we were raised in different time periods. My friendship with Linda in the end taught me to make the most of my life, to ask questions and to try something new. It also put into a new light how age does not hinder one’s attitude, so you should always keep a smile on your face.