I think sometimes we keep our eyes shut and our hearts occupied when we are moving towards a destination. I know I have been guilty of this in both the literal and metaphorical journeys of my life. Sometimes I find myself where I hoped to be and feel a bit empty. How did I get here? What were the moments that led to this?
I am working on it.
It took four planes to get me from America to the Dominican Republic last week. Four airports full of people leaving and arriving and hoping and sleeping. I kept my eyes open. I had one layover in the Vegas airport that stretched from its expected "barely tolerable" three hours to a "my goodness this beyond the pale, I don't care how first world that sounds" five hours. I had plenty of time to write little thoughts, eat big sandwiches and watch the people around me.
I settled into my gate with a book and even more food, when a woman with two dogs approached the counter.
She was what polite characters in fiction would call "big boned". Her clothes were wrinkled from travel and her spaghetti straps pressed into her shoulders. She wore white scuffed sneakers and a bit of lace sock peaked above their tops. She held her lips in a tight purse and her eyes were as creased and tired as her clothes. The dogs looked more well rested than their owner. One was large and white. His ears sharps and eyes curious. He rested his nose against her stomach. She held the other under one arm. A little bit of a thing with more fur than flesh. The man at the counter looked at her with confusion and expectation.
She stood defensively before she spoke, each white shoe planted firmly on the stained carpet.
"Hello, sir. These are emotional support dogs. I'm taking them out to Virginia and need to check them to come on the flight with me. I've got all the documentation and before you say anything, know that everyone has been giving me problems all day and in the end, they have all decided I can keep traveling."
He smiled and murmured something before typing into his computer. After a few moments he looked up,
"This airline must have different rules than the other ones you have been traveling with so far. I'm only allowed to let you take one dog with you. Let me call my boss. Until then please take a seat."
Her shoulders slumped and she led the dogs away, sitting them and herself on the floor next to the counter.
Over the next hour and a half, I watched documentation be disputed, phone calls made and superiors called over. The woman was on guard and terse. She was universally frustrated and dismissive with all the agents, even the ones that showed concern. The initial agent that helped her was always kind. The others were not. One employee would walk over every few minutes to ask her supercilious questions and then smirk at the people around him when she answered. Her flight came and went. She called her sister to cry.
"I'm trying to do the right thing. I'm trying to get these out to you, but everyone is being so mean."
I started crying, too.
The dogs were a bit restless. Wandering around her and whimpering when she wouldn't let them walk away. The agent with the smug grin walked over when the white one yelped,
"You are going to have to control those dogs. This isn't a kennel. Ma'am."
"You think I don't know that? I'm doing my best. They are just tired. I am tired, too. You ever been tired?"
A woman sitting behind me had been witness to the dog dilemma as long as I had. She was well dressed and her lipstick was fresh. The gold hoops in her ears swayed as she shook her head and leaned over to her husband,
"Enough with the dog sob story, already. Who is this woman. She is crazy."
He chuckled and circled his hand around hers.
The words to tell her off were tumbling out of my mouth when I noticed movement out of the corner of my eye.
A woman and her two teenage daughters sat down next to the woman and her dogs. The fifteen year old started petting the big white dog, while the older one let the little dog crawl onto her lap. Their mom put her hand on the woman's shoulder.
"Tell me the names of your dogs."
The four of them talked about the dogs while the agents at the desk continued to call and type and look official. The polished woman with the chuckling husband chuckled about something else. And I sat in the middle of everything and let the lesson I'd just learned seep into my bones.
The passions and plights of our fellow sisters may not always make sense to us. Heaven knows, a lone woman demanding to get on a plane with a dog the size of a miniature horse and one the size of a mouse has the air of the ridiculous about it. But, she was trying to do something that was important to her. And my approval of her situation doesn't really matter one little bit. All that matters is my understanding of her heart. We've all got pursuits, hopes, problems that make no sense to outsiders. All of us will be the "tired woman with the dogs" to the women around us at one point or another. We've got no choice in the matter.
What we can choose is our reaction to our fellow sisters when they find themselves in that place of isolation. Will we shake our heads and laugh knowingly? Or will we get down on the floor next to them and ask them to give us the names of the things they care about?
I plan on spending much of my time on the floor. Want to join me? I'll scooch over a bit. There's plenty of room.