Last week I was flying to L.A. for a speaking engagement. As I boarded the plane, I reminded myself how peaceful the flight would be. Flying solo is like a forced holiday. Flying with my gang is a big job and one that I spend a fair amount of time dreading. However, after the experience I had on that particular flight, I realized that maybe travelling with my kids is not so bad after all.
Two rows ahead of me, in the bulk head seats, was a very elderly man who walked with a cane. He was travelling with his wife, a striking woman with big brown eyes and long, thick, dark hair tied neatly back.
Clearly Alzheimer’s had taken a nasty hold of her. She was aggressive. Quite regularly she would stand by the bulk head, face the passengers behind her and give us dirty and accusing looks. There was a very strange salute she would give if you happened to make eye contact with her. At one point she was murmuring racist remarks at the family sitting in the row between us. It was all pretty much torturous for her husband.
Whenever she got agitated, her elderly husband gently stroked her lovely face and encouraged her to sit down, which she usually did. A few minutes would pass and she’d be back up shooting the dirty looks and giving her strange salutes.
As I got off the airplane, I passed by the elderly man and told him his wife was beautiful and that he was doing a fantastic job with her. His eyes were a little teary as he gave me the most sincere “thank you” I’ve ever heard in my life.
I imagined what life was like for him - watching his wife slip away, apologizing and explaining her inappropriate behaviour, having to deal with judging looks. Dealing with all that as an 80-year-old seems like a pretty tall order. And he did it all with grace – he always remained kind, loving and patient.
That man is my new role model. The next time I’m flying with my crew and I start to lose my cool, I will remember his tired eyes and remind myself that if an exhausted old man can remain loving and patient, so can I.