“Are you looking for a seat?” An older man stood up as I wandered O’Hare and gestured to the seat he was sitting in.
“Oh, no sir, thank you though. I’m just going to buy a water.” I pointed with my head to the convenience stand behind me.
He looked at me a little puzzled. “Are you traveling alone?”
“Yes sir, I am.” I watched as his eyes met my teal crutches.
Completely innocently, he asked, “How do you do it?”
I smiled. “To be honest, it’s my first time traveling alone,” I shrugged a little, “I decided a long time ago that I was just going figure stuff out if I wanted to do something. So, I guess I’m just figuring it out.”
A small smile crept onto his face. “Good for you.”
“Thank you.” I returned his smile.
“Have a good one!” His smile got bigger as I told him to do the same and spun on my heels.
Little did I know, just figuring stuff out would describe that day, perfectly.
This summer, I hopped on a plane alone for the first time to go visit some of my best friends in Illinois. My flight there was easy and smooth, and the week with them flew by (no pun intended).
Coming home though, turned out not to be that easy. Coming home, pretty much everything you can think of going wrong in travel, went wrong for me.
First, my bag got pulled in security. (Thanks to Bananagrams?)
Then, my flight got canceled.
Then, I found out there was no flights until the next day and the airline wouldn’t give me a hotel because my flight was canceled due to weather.
After sitting on a frustrating phone call with the airline, the overwhelmed guy behind the gate desk whom I already bothered once, pointed me to the customer service line.
My eyes followed the line he showed me and suddenly, they filled with tears. As I walked and walked and walked, realizing the line extended from gate 6 to gate 12, I broke down.
Yes. Right there. In the middle of the airport. I called my dad and sobbed.
People definitely stared. But at that point, I didn’t care.
I cried, talking things through with Dad, wishing the old man was there with his empty seat now. I do not recommend crying (okay sobbing), with a heavy backpack on, while on the phone and walking with crutches.
My friend’s parents are saints and ended up driving an hour back to the airport to get me and take me there again the next morning.
But while I waited for them, I needed to find my bag. So, I went back to the gate desk. The guy looked even more annoyed as I listened to another guy blame the gate desk worker for his phone not working and sending him a text that the flight was canceled.
I took a deep breath, finally not really crying and stepped up to the desk. He definitely looked annoyed that I was backed for a third time.
Putting on my nicest voice, I said: “Hi, I know my flight is canceled and I’m trying to get on another one, but I am staying here for the night. I just need wheelchair assistance to baggage claim so I can find my bag.” He said he’d call for one and told me to sit in chairs to the right.
20 minutes passed. Still no wheelchair.
I felt more tears coming.
Right as I was getting ready to go find someone again, a massive dude who worked for the airport came walking towards me.
Immediately, I thought I was in trouble for sitting there or something.
“Ma’am, do you need something?” it turned out to be an innocent question, but I didn’t know that when he asked. So, I kinda started to cry. Again. I started to tell this poor guy my life story.
“It’s my first time traveling alone, and my flight got canceled. There’s no flights until tomorrow, so I just need to find my bag. But I don’t think I can make it to baggage claim.” I took a quick breath and let my crutches dangle on my arms in front of him. “Trust me, if you knew me, you would know that if I thought I could make it, I’d try. But I don’t think I can make it. And I hate saying that. So, I asked the gate guy who’s no longer over there, for a wheelchair. But it’s been almost 30 minutes now, and I just –”
“Hold on, you just need a wheelchair?”
“Yes sir.” I sniffled.
He placed his hand on my shoulder, “I’ve got you kid, don’t worry.”
I wanted to hug this guy. Five minutes later, my chair showed up.
Five more minutes later, I now was wheeling with a deep dish pizza in my lap, and I thought maybe things were looking up.
But then I had to convince another airport guy that I was not, and never was going to Tampa. But apparently my bags were.
“It’ll be an hour and a half until your bags come out.”
Cool. Thanks, pal.
As I sat in the middle of baggage claim, waiting, in an airport wheelchair, eating pizza, I started to think back.
I remember thinking about how much this sucked and how my day was so bad, it was almost comical. But then something hit me.
If you were to put me in this situation even a year ago, I would’ve been sunk.
I remembered one time my dad came to see me at college. He took me to Publix, of course. I noticed at one point he was standing back watching me get stuff off the shelf and he took a picture.
He looked at me and said: “You just kinda go into survival mode when we’re not around to help with everything, don’t you?”
I shrugged. “Yeah, I guess. I just figure things out. But it wasn’t always that way.”
He chuckled. “Oh Scooter, I know. I got a panicked phone call every time something went wrong your freshman year.”
I rolled my eyes and smiled, but I knew he was right.
In high school, out of my private school bubble, I was faced with the reality for the first time that I was disabled, and it made people look at me different.
No doubt looking back now, I slowly morphed into a shyer version of myself in high school because the realities of being disabled finally hit me.
But by the end of high school and the start of my freshman year of college, I was getting sick of it.
I’m still not the most outgoing person you’ll ever meet and obviously, given my dad’s description of my freshman year, I didn’t gain confidence and the guts to “just figure things out” overnight.
But I decided at the start of college that I needed to change it. I needed to stop letting Cerebral Palsy keep me from the life ahead of me.
Sitting in O’Hare, I was able to see how much I have changed since then.
Put the Jordan I was four years ago in this situation, she definitely would’ve been too scared to go up to the crabby gate guy three times.
She definitely would’ve struggled to ask for help, and I honestly really can’t tell you how she would’ve gotten out of that situation.
In the middle of O’Hare, in a messy situation, I was able to get such a clear picture of how God has used a lot of good, bad and challenging times to make me into who I am today.
A really messy situation painted me a clear picture of faithful growth.
After a long day that was a “worst thing”, I was able to be thankful and proud of who God was and is molding me to be.
When I finally got back to Otown the next day, I don’t know how many times I said to my family: “I traveled by myself and got through a nightmare travel day.”
They returned my big smile every time, because they saw it too.
Learning to rest in the growth God is putting me through, and not who I was in the past.
Learning to be excited by who He’s making me into and how that plays into all His plans for my life.
In my opinion, recognizing how you've grown, finding excitement in it and resting in how God is using it in your life, is one of the best things you can do.
It only took a canceled flight, deep dish pizza, lost bags and airport wheelchairs to make me see it.
Last year around my birthday, I posted 21 things I've learned at 21. To keep the tradition going, in no particular order, here's 22 things I've learned at 22: