We were scheduled to be at LAX in Terminal 1 yesterday, November 1st, on what proved to be a terrifying day and a deadly tragedy. My prayers are fixed on the innocent people involved and on their families. Loss is a part of life, and none of us knows what will happen in the very next moment in life. Only God knows how long we will live this life, and only we can choose how to live the precious moments we have. I am reminded of how precious this gift of life is, and to never, ever, ever take it for granted. Always let your words be loving and your spirit be one that lifts others up from the depths of the reality of this fallen world we live in – quite an ugly place sometimes.
I decided to write this blog entry, because several of you have asked to hear the story. So this is the story of how Barb Vance and I were supposed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, but MIRACULOUSLY, we were not.
It’s Tuesday, October 29. Barb and I are lying in bed as she recovers from her Oct. 18 surgery and I write. We’ve become familiar with this comforting routine we have each day. I wake up and go get coffee for the two of us, and with each story shared, each regret from the past vulnerably uttered, and our hopes and dreams for a future without mesh, we sip that early-morning nectar of the gods and awaken for the day ahead. On this particular day, we start to wonder, “Why are we still here?” We don’t really like L.A. in general; we have no more appointments, and Barb is feeling better than expected 11 days after her full mesh explant. Barb says, “Well I suppose we could just leave early. That would get you back to your hubby sooner, and I could see my grand babies in their Halloween costumes.” This is starting to make a lot of sense, so she calls, and easily rebooks our already-scheduled November 1st flight for the very next day, October 30 at 5pm. Easy enough. Plenty of time to pack, and enough time to host the first “Tea at the Tiverton for Mesh Angels” (another blog to come about that soon). We get going on our plans for the tea and begin to pack for our early departure. I do laundry and run errands. She makes calls to other Angels at UCLA to say goodbye. Everything seems in order. We have our lovely tea on Tuesday night, and by Wednesday afternoon at 3:00, we are headed to LAX for our 5:00 departure on Southwest Airlines. I put LAX into my iPhone’s GPS, a procedure I’ve now used three times, without incident, since arriving in L.A. October 14.
Here’s where things start to get pretty darn interesting and — a good word is hard to find here — bizarre, like Twilight Zone bizarre. For some reason on this particular day, my GPS decides to take us on a winding (although also rather scenic) route that terminates at the BACK of the airport. If you’ve ever flown to LAX, you know that it is so big that it has its own zip code, literally. WHY, after three successful journeys to and from the airport would my GPS dump us in the back!? There are construction signs and workers, a dirt road, orange signs every where, a chorus of, “No- this is not right. You are lost.” A worker shakes his head at us; we shake our heads back to express acceptance and the knowledge that we are, in fact, completely lost. I roll down my window:
Him: “Jou are een dee wrong place. Where ees eet that jou are g’ing?”
Me: “We need to get to the front of the airport. My GPS sent us here to the wrong side.”
Him: (laughing) “Jou neeeed to make a turn on dee ro-ad Peeekings.”
Me: “What is the name of the road?”
Him: “No, Peeekings.”
Me: “Ok, thanks for your help! Wish us luck!”
Him: “Good luck.”
Me: “Si, Buena Suerte, and Gracias!”
I have traveled a lot in my life, so I’m not too worried yet, but I’m on the verge for sure. I try to keep calm as Barb starts to ask, “Should I call the airline and tell them we’ll be late or see if there is a later flight?” The steely resolve in me is not yet ready to admit defeat. “No, I think we’ll make it. I think we’re good. We just need to look for ‘Peeeekings St.’ and turn left. That will take us to the entrance.”
As we make a u-turn and drive away, we are both watching intently as we read each sign we pass. We finally pass a road whose name begins with the letter “P” but the road leads to nowhere, and we are each trying to sound it out to see how it might could be pronounced “Peeeeekings” with a heavy accent. We’re not feeling it. We keep driving. We see a motorcycle policeman in the parking lot of some kind of airport building where we are pretty sure passengers are not allowed. We pull into the parking lot anyway. Barb rolls down her window, “Excuse me. I think we’re lost. Could you help us? Our GPS sent us to the wrong side of the airport.” Two gentlemen approach our car, very ready and willing to help. Barb notices that one man has on a suit with an official looking gold pin and tie. She says, “Are you the mayor or somethin’?” to which he answers, “No, but you could say I am The King of the Airport.” We agree we’ve somehow been led to just the people who can help us. Barb gets bolder, “Can we have a police escort to the entrance?” To our surprise, the motorcycle policeman says, “Yes, of course.” Barb and I look at one another in awe. Despite our obvious time issues, I must make time for a selfie. . . this is just too unbelievable and without pictures to prove it, I fear it will be just that: completely unable to be believed. So here they are: The King of LAX and the Nicest Policeman in all of L.A.
So now we’re really on our way, everything really is going to be fine, but we look at the clock and again see we’re still pushing it, but we can make it if we use the Sky Cap and Curbside Check-in. But still there is that one pesky little issue . . . checking in the Hertz rental car. Hmmmm . . . this is a problem, one I’m not sure how I’m going to get us out of in 45 minutes. Barb says, “Do you think I should call the airline and tell them we’re late and check on other flights?” Despite our recent victories, God-sent policeman and The King of LAX, I must admit, “Yeah, I think we better call now.”
Following our friendly policeman closely, we turn left onto a street called “Pershing.” Barb and I look at one another . . . . . “Oh, Peeeekings! We thank God for the policeman again, as we never would have made that connection. We arrive at the Southwest Airlines Sky Cap as we say goodbye with an enthusiastic thumbs up and emphatic waves goodbye to our Angel Escort that appeared at just the right time.
We open the door and hurriedly find a wheelchair and debrief the friendly SW Airline reps of our debacle.
We still have to get checked in, baggage and all and everything through TSA security before we’re in the clear. Oooh- and still, there’s this problem of returning the dang car. I ask the SW clerks if there is a protocol for leaving the car at the airport, rather than driving to Hertz (which at LAX is completely outside the airport). A disappointing, “No, sorry about that,” leaves me frantic but as always, still problem solving and unwilling to admit defeat until the bitter end. Barb informs me the 5:00 flight is the last one of the evening headed to DFW. Now I start freaking. This whole time, I’ve been trying to get through the Hertz phone tree, to no avail . . . busy signals, dropped calls, transfers that lead to ringing that goes nowhere and to no one.
“Barb, all our baggage is checked in. Please take my purse and pillow, my backpack with your wheelchair, and I promise I’ll be on the plane. Just get on the plane and wait for me. I promise I’ll be there.” During our two-week stay together, I had broken a promise to her, a circumstance outside my control, but still I HATE breaking promises, and I make this promise now as a sort of fuel- thinking, “I cannot break another promise to her. I cannot break another promise. I must keep my word. I will be there.”
I jump in the rental car and like a race car out of the pit, I head to the Hertz location outside the airport. When I arrive, I sheepishly park in a handicap spot and run into the Hertz office. There are people everywhere, like someone stepped on an ant hill.
I am still running and I just start yelling into the air like an absolute crazy woman, “Can someone help me? I need someone to drive me back to the airport in my own rental car. Please- someone help me!” People are staring at me, but I don’t care. I made a promise. Well that, and everything I own is on the plane with Barb. I have my license, my ticket, my phone, the clothes on my back and this albatross of a car (which is white I might add). A few men in black and yellow hats run over to me.
Me: “I need someone to drive me back to the airport in my own car. I’m going to miss my 5:00 flight, and I have an injured person waiting on the flight for who I am the caregiver. Please, please help me.”
Him: “Only shuttle drivers can drive the cars.”
Me: “Ok, well can you call a shuttle driver to drive my car?”
Him: “Well, we don’t really do that normally. And you still have to check-in your car.”
Me: “I understand. But this isn’t a normal situation. I just need some help.”
Him: “Let me call and see if I can find a shuttle driver.”
As he jogs off, I look around and realize just how many people are there. It is the largest rental car facility I have ever seen. There are hundreds of people, and they are all doing things “the right way” and not the crazy-ranting-late-lunatic-tourist-way. The man comes back, “I found you a shuttle driver. He’ll be here in two minutes.” I say to him, “Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you. Thank you for helping me. I just needed some help regular-person to regular-person, without all this red tape. THANK YOU.” He acknowledges my gratitude with a tip of his hat and stays close to his walkie-talkie, looking to and fro for the on-his-way shuttle driver.
I am pacing and praying and looking around for anyone who might look like a “shuttle driver.” After about three or four minutes, I start asking people, “Are you a shuttle driver?” I have no idea what criteria I am using to select those I ask, but I ask again- a different person, “Are you a shuttle driver.” Both “NOs” leave me panicking. The man in the yellow and black hat runs out to the driver of a golf-cart-like “shuttle” that takes incoming clients to rented cars that are parked what could probably be miles away from the central office of this huge place. I see them speaking and nodding their heads. The man in the yellow and black hat runs towards me, as I run outside to meet him. “Freddie can drive you. He’s licensed to drive all our vehicles!” I say thank you again so many times and take off in a sprint to my car, yelling back to Freddie, “C’mon Freddie, my car is right here.” I notice he is trying his best to run with me, but he is limping a little, and I notice he is elderly once we are both in my/their/his car. He has gray sprinkled throughout his jet black hair and a weary-sounding voice. He is kind. He is calm. He is not affected by my craziness or by my frantic demeanor.
I still will not admit defeat. We get to the Hertz gate. We have to give the attendant our mileage before we can be set free to continue our pursuit. The mileage is digital. We can’t find it. This woman is not budging, despite my pleadings. I suggest they just subtract the distance to and from the airport from the mileage once Freddie returns with the car. “No, that is not happening,” declares the attendant. We are turning the car off and on, off and on. We are pushing buttons. Nothing is working. Suddenly the mileage appears. We have no idea how, but I am screaming across Freddie to the attendant, “21,871; 21,871; 21,871, please open the gate.” I literally feel like a prisoner set free when the gate opens, seeming to invite us to the next phase of this insane journey.
I say to Freddie, “Now, I am not asking you to do anything illegal, but I have got to make that 5:00 flight. I am accompanying an injured person who is already boarded.” Freddie nods. He gets me. I close my eyes, and I begin praying aloud. I barely remember what I prayed for, except that my hand was on Freddie’s shoulder and I was praying for his safety, his health, his family, his job, his relationship with God. I thanked God for the many blessings He had already given: The King of LAX; The Niceest Policeman in L.A.; the construction workers, the man in the yellow and black hat, the Southwest Skycap employees, Barb. I look up and apologize to Freddie, saying “I’m sorry; I’m just freaking out a bit and I’m scared, and this is what I do when I’m scared: I pray, ” to which he replies, “You keep it up girl. We got ta getcha to da plane.” We arrive at the terminal, and I look my Angel Driver in the eyes and say, “God bless you, Freddie.” And I sprint out of the car and into the building.
Hey it’s been working so far, so I start screaming into the air again to anyone who might listen, “Where is security? Where is security?” Someone answers: “Straight ahead, up the escalators!” I say “Thank you” and keep running, up the escalator, through a maze of security ropes, explaining to the main TSA agent that I am late and need help. He looks at my ticket and says, “You sure do,” and he helps me cut to the front of the line. I have to take off seven bracelets one by one because I know from past travel that they will set the sensors off. It feels like an eternity. Why did I have to wear SEVEN bracelets today?? Shoes off, sunglasses off, jewelry off, I go through the body scanner. Eyes closed and face clenched, I am holding my breath. GREEN LIGHT!!! I gather up my bracelets, slap on my flip flops and sprint again- through concourses, restaurant openings, hallways, people, and I am unsure whether it’s Gate 4 or 7. I think it changed, but I’m not sure, so I use the tried-and-true method: chant like a crazy person: “Which gate goes to El Paso/DFW?”
I hear a voice, “Are you Aaron?”
Me: “Yes, yes, I’m Aaron.”
VOICE: “Run, run- this way, hurry!”
Me: Oh my gosh, am I at the right gate? Does this go to El Paso/DFW?
VOICE: “Yep, ticket please. You’re free to pass into the jetway. You made it. Have a great flight.”
There are a few others still boarding at the end of the jetway. I run towards the plane, and I’m not in my right mind- not at all- and once I get inside the plane, I yell again (although this time, it sounds much more like the loud, pathetic whimper of a frightened sheep), “BAArb. . . . . . . BArb!”
Understandably, she lowers her head and hat while raising her hand. I sit down in my seat, next to her. I cannot even think straight. I am sitting on this plane. How did this all happen? Recent events are flooding my mind in pieces, pieces which break off and wander down mental paths of what could have gone wrong at each turn. I can’t even talk. Barb is as calm as cat napping in a warm window seat, and that is what I have wanted all along, for my Mesh Angel to feel taken care of: calm, relaxed, full of trust for her caregiver and friend. The flight attendant shuts the door.
The captain speaks, “I’m sorry we’re pushing off just a little late today folks. We had a few kinks to work out, but we’ll get you there on time. Should be a smooth flight with a few bumps as we take our quick, 15-minute stop in El Paso and then we’ll have you into Dallas right on time- about 10:35.” I lay my head on my pillow, and just keep thanking God, for who else could clear a path like this? For the literal love of God, I didn’t even check my rental car in. Freddie could be headed to Tijuana by now, but somehow I don’t think so. My mind stops racing as I settle into an utterly overwhelming feeling of gratitude. Barb rubs and pats my back, and I finally admit, not my victory, but the victory of something much greater than me, with a heart filled with hope and goodness much grander than mine. I am convinced his name is GOD, the GOD of the Bible, the God who says things like this:
“Look at the nations and watch, and be utterly amazed for I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told.” -Habakkuk 1:5
“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is- his good, pleasing and perfect will.” -Romans 12:2
“For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord, plans for hope and a future, plans to prosper you and not to harm you.” -Jeremiah 29:11
For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place and you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?” -Esther 4:14
In other words, we don’t know exactly why we’re here sometimes, some days. But when the day comes, one for which you were made, you’d better be ready and trained up to be used by God to accomplish His purposes. This I believe is the best thing I can do with my life, and I am grateful that He used me, sharpened me, toughened me up, so that I can remain prepared for “such a time as this,” because I’m assuming since I’m still here, there will be at least one more.