I may not start packing until the night before, but, mentally, I am laying out what will go into the suitcase weeks before a trip. Its a hassle to have to use up vacation time to go buy something you forgot. But there is one thing I am never going to leave without, and that’s the stress of traveling with a disability.
My grandmother’s 90th birthday brought me to Ohio last week. Despite the trip falling in the center of winter, I enjoyed every moment of sharing meals with family, surprising grandma, and trading jovial jabs with my cousins.
The flight home concluded with a damaged wheelchair and advocating with people who did not really understand where I was coming from.
Now Boarding: Headaches
The stress creeps its way in the moment I open the web browser to search for airfare. Not only am I searching for a good deal, during manageable hours, but also an airline I am familiar with that is preferably non-stop. Bad things happen during layovers.
The anxiety keeps brewing as I consider where I am staying. Even if I am going to visit friends with open homes, wheelchair accessibility is not universal. Often it is more comfortable for me to stay in an accessible hotel room. Transportation must be factored in too. Will I need to hunt for a handicap van?
By the time these things are sorted out, my expenses have increased but my anxiety cannot be dispelled. The actual traveling part has yet to be conquered.
I experienced my worst traveling experience coming home from my 15 year high school reunion. The trip exceeded my hopes. The weekend established reconnections with those who had somehow grown into adults since last I had seen them. For the first time in 12 years, I returned to my hometown, exploring changes and reliving memoies with my aunt at my side.
When I arrived at the airport to travel home, the gate agent informed me that my flight to DC was delayed due to winds. Fair enough, I thought. I was perfectly content with my plane not being blown into Canada.
The worry was that I would now miss my final flight to Houston. The agent was confident enough that I’d make it, so I chanced it.
The flight hit some additional turbulence on its way to DC and when it finally touched down, there was an unexpected delay in getting my wheelchair from beneath the plane. My eyes kept stealing glances at my smartphone and watched the current time close in on my next flight’s departure.
I was comforted by the flight attendants that the next flight had been contacted to hold open their doors, which meant I would now be every passengers favorite person if I made it on the flight. Once I was released from the plane, I raced to the next gate accompanied by one of the pilots, who committed to remaining with me until I was off to Houston.
Circling Baggage Claim
Navigating the DC airport is not for the weak. I am convinced that I crossed a state line before arriving at my next gate. The flight had been boarded, the doors had been sealed, and the gate agents had abandoned their posts. The final flight to Houston that night prepared to take to the sky and leave me behind.
John, the pilot who had just been promoted to my most loyal friend, battled to ensure the airline put me up in an accessible hotel for the night. The hotel I was going to confirmed that they had a shuttle that was handicap accessible. John and I awaited the shuttles for what seemed like an entire evening, but that shuttle did not exist.
A cab was called. The clock restarted as I waited for them to track down an accessible one. By the time the night had switched from PM to AM, I loaded into my cab, bid my gratitude to John, and made my way to the hotel.
Safely back in my chair the next morning and as freshened up as worn clothes and the hygiene kit I had been given by the airport would allow me to be, I committed to leave long before I needed to. I called the same cab company for a wheelchair accessible taxi.
In place of a taxi with a ramp, a standard cab awaited me outside the lobby. I waited as the driver relayed the mistake to his dispatcher. He delivered the malignant news that the company had only one accessible taxi which could not get to me for another two hours.
Enlisting the help of the front-desk attendant, we contacted the surrounding cab companies for help. Unfortunately our nation’s capital does not have the need for or the desire to purchase wheelchair accessible taxis, so I was left with waiting the 2 hours and missing my rescheduled flight.
Finally arriving at the airport, I relayed my story to the gate agent. She was sympathetic but powerless. All she could do was place me on the next flight to Houston which departed later that afternoon.
As I traveled through the terminal, I prayed: “God if you were waiting for the perfect day to heal me, today would be that day!”
You Have Arrived at Your Destination
So if traveling is this exhausting, why do I continue to do it?
The answer is already hidden throughout my story: Relationships.
During my last night in Ohio, the game of Mexican Train was laced with conversation, most of it quick-witted smack. The same folks who had marked my childhood still remained, sharing their infectious laughter with each other. It was like no time had been stolen.
The trip also sat me around the table with family who had walked with me during my diagnosis and the death of my mother. The cousins I had cared for as toddlers were now adults making their own way and preparing to speak back into my life.
Within each of these relationships enshrines years of mutual influence. Invaluable treasures I cannot shake, and never have a desire to lose.
Celebrating the 90th birthday of my grandmother brought me face to face with how relationships continue speaking into our lives. Many faces of neighbors and kin dropped by the party to recognize a woman who had contributed to their lives.
God has given me the opportunity to develop deep relationships in the states I have lived in: Ohio, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Kentucky, and now Texas. The people in those states continue to matter, and although lives change direction and endless traveling is not possible, I want to remain a part of their lives as much as possible.
Within my innermost parts He has knit together resides an ability to establish relationships, as well as a burden to recognize their value. I cannot ignore it by shutting it up inside me. It’d be disobedience if I did not prioritize them.
I want to do all I can to continue building those relationships, and to experience the way they invest in me. Traveling with a disability may be consuming, but my destination can see beyond that.
So what is a little stress in light of what is of eternal value?
What is standing in your way of prioritizing what God has laid on your heart?
If you have found this article beneficial or enjoyable, please share on your social media to bring its message to others.