In specific circumstances, some are able to get on the plane before the first class passengers.
Pre-boarding is essential for some people.
For families with condominium - sized strollers and kids looking for a jungle gym.
For people with casted limbs or bodies recovering from surgery.
For those whose bodies and minds have lived through a lot more than my years.
It had been a really long day, and we were flying out to Salt Lake City. I was thankful to find that we would be taking care of only about thirty passengers. While this is much to the airline's chagrin to have such a light load, it's a nice treat for us every once in a while. There's no fighting for overhead bin space. There's no dismay at being seated in the middle seat. Everyone can have their own row, if they wanted. It's low drama, and that's always welcome.
He was one of the first to board. His wheelchair transportation was brought as close as possible to the boarding door. He traveled lightly and I could see as he stood up that it had been a long day for him, too.
There was a brief exchange of salutations, but I quickly gathered that his time and energy in that moment was devoted solely to his concentration on walking to his seat. Bracing himself with each step - balancing his weight on his canes, I helped him to his resting place right behind the bulkhead separating first class from economy. I placed his small bag in the overhead bin and made sure he was comfortable. He thanked me and seemed relieved to be still.
Later in the flight, after we had finished our snack and beverage service, he made his way all the way to the lavatories at the back of the plane. He seemed winded by the trip, and I felt disappointed that I hadn't been closer to the front at the moment to let him know he could have gone to the bathroom in first class to save him the trip.
He said he preferred to sit closer to the back. It was quiet and empty, and I retrieved his belongings so he could situate himself in a place more to his liking. He seemed more at ease, and asked for some more ginger ale and pretzels. I was happy to oblige.
As the time passed, I could see his demeanor begin to change. He was in his late fifties or early sixties. He dressed in a professionally casual way, and even though I'd never seen him before in my life - I knew he began to feel more like himself again.
I went to walk by to collect more snack trash, but he stopped me.
"Thank you for taking care of me. I just came from a funeral in Maine. I forgot to take my medicine and this day has been very long for me. Having Parkinson's is never easy."
I felt tired for him. He began to share about his eleven year battle. How he used to be a dentist - a profession in which his livelihood depended on the dexterity of his hands, and how much his life has changed. How frustrating it was to have to focus every bit of energy in his mind and body into just moving one foot in front of the other.
As he shared his life with me, I never heard him complaining. God's story for him changed his life trajectory drastically, but he still exuded such thankfulness for the life he still had. Like how passionate he was explaining the disease in medical terms. You could tell it was something he was meant to do.
His name was Bill, and I felt so privileged to have met him.
It's nice to see the world - it's a great opportunity. It's not difficult to serve someone ginger ale and pretzels. Sometimes my job is frustrating. Every job has those moments. But the greatest blessing I have is when I can slow down and remember what it's about. Keeping people safe, and making them feel welcome. Learning about where they've been, and where they are going. And being blessed by them - when they don't even mean to, and even when I don't deserve it.