Saturday, April 13, 2013

"Do you want to play with me?"

On a bad day, my life is good. On an average day, it's pretty awesome and on a good day, well, you can do the math!

My life and lifestyle are the envy of many of my friends with all the going-and-coming, time off, great benefits and overall freedom. Early in my career with my airline employer, I was on a fairly aggressive "management track," heading up with energy and vigor. But I wasn't particularly pleased with the toll such an aggressive path took on my personal life. I certainly wasn't comfortable with the aggressive, kill-or-be-killed personality that I was cultivating. My parents were getting older, my life seemed to be flying past the windows of the supersonic career jet that I was tethered to, and I saw many of the "benefits" of my career choice in the rear view mirror. Somehow, it seemed I was losing control of my own destiny and I wanted it back desperately. So, I took back control!

I returned to "line flying" as a Flight Attendant after being warned more than once that to do so was career suicide. Since some of the "footholds" to boost myself up the corporate ladder were the backs of co-workers, I had to re-establish peer relationships with many and regularly dined on "crow". But as I regained control of my work, work schedule, and life, I convinced myself that "career suicide" was just the right option at just the right time in my life. I can't say that I've ever regretted that decision.

My near 30 years of seniority afford me a sublimely manageable, flexible schedule full of options. I see myself now working to live rather than living to work.

During my father's recent 3+ year cancer fight, I was able to be with he and my mother at critical times and for extended periods. Often, a foreseen appointment which we imbued with so much import was just the tip of the iceberg. The time before and/or after when we anxiously anticipated or nervously ruminated about health developments was absolutely critical. How could I have hoped to provide the material comfort and support that I did if I had been committed to a conventional work schedule? That tragic series of events ended with Dad's death on Labor Day 2012. Or did it?

Now I spend time with my recently-widowed Mom at her home or she uses my benefits to spend time with Philip and me in Houston; meaningful time that, I'm sure, helps her through her mourning period. As I write, I have returned to the hometown where I was born and where I spent the formative years of my life to help celebrate the 50th wedding anniversary of our dear friends, Harold and Shirley Westbrook. Originally, I was to fly a Berlin trip this weekend but the flexibility of my schedule allowed me to exchange trips (trip trade) with another Flight Attendant whose place I will be taking to Amsterdam on Tuesday. I don't think that I could quantify the value of my work flexibility. How could I replace the lost "moments" in my life path that I might have missed otherwise?

While having lunch yesterday at the local "hoagie" shop in town (a 40-year institution in our small town), Mom and I were joined by Mr. Rogers, a family friend. We learned that his 5 year old granddaughter, Gracie, had been under inpatient care at Eggleston Children's Hospital in Atlanta for weeks with a congenital heart condition. As worrying as Gracie's circumstances were, Mr. Rogers began to talk about the truly tragic patient stories of this unique Georgia pediatric institution. He lamented about how many infants and adolescents were simply abandoned there, alone and sick, as vulnerable as vulnerable gets. Mr. Rogers' eyes became a little misty, his face heavy, as he related his encounter with one particular little boy.

As he and his wife exited the elevator on his granddaughter's floor, Mr. Rogers noticed a young black boy, aged 5 or 6, sitting in the door of his room nearby. He saw that the boy was all alone. Instantly, the lad had a smile on his face and a question on his lips,

"Do you want to play with me?"

How many times had he asked the same question that day? How many total strangers represented his opportunity for a diversion, a distraction from what must be a living horror of hour-after-hour alone, the monotony of nothingness punctuated only by a frightening medical procedure or a periodic nurse visit and "vitals" check? Who is responsible for this little fellow, set adrift on life's vast ocean alone, afraid, and sick? What was more important to this child's parent than caring for life's most precious gift? When did children become chattel? Please, tell me. Because I really NEED to understand!

"Do you want to play with me?"

Yes, I do. I really do. And I WILL...

Will you?

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