On December 23 around noon time, a phone call from my mother catapulted me into a bit of distress. A nephew had suddenly passed away. Family in Nebraska was gathering to be with my sister, and I knew I needed to be there. I also knew there was no way FD and I could trust anyone to care for Emma and Ronnie deer and we really were not prepared to release them just yet. To boot, one of our little dogs continued to have health issues, and the other dog is terrified of people. Given all this it was quickly evident that I would be flying solo to Nebraska.
I have only flown a handful of times since 9/11 and I felt anxiety welling within me. Many years ago, however, I took flights all over the country and even out of country. Back then I was completely comfortable flying alone and on a whim. But over time, I suffered a breakdown of sorts. A series of ill-fated friendships and relationships destroyed my trust in people. As a result, I closed myself off and retreated to a quiet life – a protected life where I felt safe and secure. Since then, our little ranch and the surrounding area has provided me solace and healing. Over time, I have learned to venture out in the early mornings to do my shopping and run errands, that way avoiding large groups of people whenever possible. And, I did manage to make a handful of new friends in the area – people who had proven to be trustworthy and loyal. But now I would have to think of traveling by myself to the cold, winter climate that I dislike so much. On top of this, I would have to deal with the holiday season which had always been a sad time for me. I knew I would have to find a way to overcome my anxiety and offer my compassionate side to comfort my sister and her family during this time of grieving.
As much as I fretted and worried about the impending trip to Nebraska, preparation for my absence here, along with holiday visiting with out-of-state family and friends, kept me plenty busy. I made sure the house was clean and beds were made for company that would arrive before I returned on New Year’s Eve. I prepared meals ahead so that FD would not have to worry about cooking. I laid out Bear’s medications and made sure there were plenty of pee pads and newspapers so FD would not have to do much cleanup if Bear had an accident. Thank goodness deer chores did not require very much these days!
Truly, I had nothing to worry about the day I flew out. FD helped me check in and both legs of my flight went without a hitch. Looking around the airport, I saw other people who were unsure or seemed anxious. I heard several people complain about the freezing temperatures that greeted us at Chicago’s O’Hare airport. I had carried my coat with me, knowing winter is harsh in the north country, but nothing could brace me for the icy cold that greeted me upon my arrival. As I boarded the smaller plane that would take me to Lincoln Nebraska, I was thankful to see the couple across from my seat holding hands. The man looked as if he had fallen and banged himself up pretty bad. He looked down most of the time, avoiding eye contact with anyone. I wondered if that was how I looked to others. The introvert in me needed space and quiet to recharge my anxiety-sapped inner spirit.
After arriving at my baby sister’s home early that afternoon, I realized the days to come would be difficult. There was very little comforting about the situation my sister Lisa and her family faced. Nothing seemed fair as Lisa unwrapped the box containing a new shirt that was to have been her twenty-one-year-old son’s Christmas gift. Now, Zach would wear these threads for the first time… and forever. As our family and a few friends gathered at the old country cemetery next to the grave of my father, we braced ourselves against the bitter north winds, and huddled under the flapping canvas of the graveside tent. To combat the cold, old quilts were tucked in around those who were seated, offering an extra layer of warmth. Beyond the cemetery fences, I looked over the desolate fields, and even far beyond – we had buried many loved ones here before. And despite the bitter of the cold and the sharp sting of Zach’s sudden parting from this life, there was a sweetness in knowing he would be surrounded with family who had gone before him… especially my dad, Zach’s Pop Pop.
During my time in Nebraska I chided myself for having been afraid to make the trip. Why had I allowed fear and anxiety to rule the last fifteen years of my life? After all, I had managed this trip just fine. And perhaps it was more that I longed to be with my family. My mom and my siblings are all aware of what a hermit I am. But I was met with love and acceptance. I did not need to worry about what I had become or what shortcomings I had. We all came to be with my sister and her family, surrounding them with love and compassion. And as long as I knew Zach, I never once thought about the aspects of the life that he dealt with. He did not have the choices or opportunities the rest of us have. His body and his brain dictated developmental delays and he suffered countless seizures. And yet, every time I saw him, he was smiling. Always the infectious and contagious smile. Why did I tend to clam up and shrink into a corner when my anxiety got the best of me? Clearly, Zach knew how to enjoy every situation and help everyone around him feel good too.
At the Lincoln airport, awaiting my return trip, my anxiety was not as high as it had been earlier in the week, and the check-in folks were super friendly. But I saw a very nervous woman at security who was nearly in tears. Happily, the TSA people were very kind and helped to reassure her and calm her. When I thought about it, I had seen kindness in people throughout this entire trip. But when I boarded the plane and sat in my seat, there was clearly a problem – an apparently intoxicated man was seated behind me at the rear of the plane. He was moaning out loud and reeked of alcohol. The lone stewardess on the flight kept checking on him and speaking to him in Spanish. She was kind and upbeat, but I sensed she was a bit uncertain. Finally, she moved a few of us up a row, and relocated a strong-looking man wearing a Union Pacific Railroad shirt into the seat in front of the intoxicated fella. After this, I think everyone felt a bit safer with a big, tough guy at the ready!
While waiting on the runway for takeoff, the stewardess spoke to the intoxicated man, and in a short time her tone became understanding and softer. Soon, a few words of English could be heard and, in time, the man’s story began to unfold. The man drove a semi-truck for a company out of Houston. His truck broke down before Christmas, and his company told him to leave the truck where it was and they would take care of having it hauled in. They told him to either drive a rental or fly back to Houston. But he could not find a car to rent over the holidays, and he was afraid to fly since he had never done so before. After several days of missing his family over the holiday, and not finding a rental car, some new friends at the motel he was staying at convinced him to fly. To help with his fear of flying and to settle his nerves, they instructed him to have a few drinks before his plane departed. So, after going through security at the airport, he went to the bar and had a few too many drinks. When asked why the airline simply did not deny him admittance on the plane, the stewardess indicated that the flight crew knew that if this man were to be thrown off the flight, he would never be allowed to fly that airline, or possibly any other airline, again. Moreover, he could possibly lose his Commercial Drivers License as well, which is required to drive a semi-truck . So, instead of seeing him face these consequences, all because of a little fear of flying, the flight crew made the decision to help the man get home. The stewardess was eventually able to provide drinks and snacks for everyone while the Union Pacific fella and a few of us visited with the trucker. At the end of the flight, the trucker was feeling much better, and the Union Pacific guy offered to make sure he got on the flight from Denver to Houston, as he was headed to Houston himself on the same flight. As I deplaned, the stewardess was arranging for them to be seated together.
As I considered all this, it came to me that we are never alone. I am sure the Apollo 13 crew felt very apprehensive and unsure out there in space in the wee hours of the morning when they contacted Houston. But they were not alone. Teams of people from Mission Control offered support, and people from all over the world prayed for the crew’s safe return. Faced with tragedy in our own lives, I believe we all have that same network of love and support available to us. All that is needed is an open mind and heart… and maybe a smile.
And that was Zach’s gift to me…
© 2017 Day by Day the Farm Girl Way…