Recently I was at the airport to catch a flight, and while I waited in line to buy a cup of coffee, I saw a man pushing a wheelchair with a frail, bent-over, elderly woman in it. It soon became clear that it was his mother in the chair, and a crankier, meaner person you’d be hard-pressed to find. She was foul-mouthed, complaining and unpleasant, and she wanted coffee now! She was telling him what kind to order for her, giving it an odd name, and he was trying to tell her in a kind voice that her order didn’t make sense. But she insisted, so he put in her order, trying to clarify it the best he could.
When it came time to taste her brew, she yelled at the barista and told her to do it again. The barista did, and when it still didn’t measure up to this woman’s impossible standards, the manager came over and tried to make it right. She couldn’t get it right either. I felt so bad for the harassed baristas trying to please the woman and not being able to. Meanwhile, the man was waiting patiently, apologetically looking at the workers, probably realizing that nothing could appease his mother when she was in this mood.
With much griping, swearing, complaining and muttering, the cranky lady finally took her coffee and told her son to push her to her gate. “Now I won’t even have time to drink this lousy thing,” she grumbled as he wheeled her away.
Later, I saw them at the gate across from mine. He was sitting on his heels at his mom’s level, chatting cheerfully with her while they waited for an agent to help his mom pre-board. Mother and son laughed and joked together while she sipped her “lousy coffee”. When the agent came to get her, her son leaned over and kissed his mother’s frail cheek, they hugged, and he waved goodbye as she was taken down the jet bridge.
I watched her son closely as he walked away, to see if he would show any signs of relief that she was gone — a rolling of the eyes, a fist pump, a leap of joy? But there were no signs to indicate that he was relieved. He had the same smile on his face that he had while saying goodbye, but no shaking of the head or smirk or negative gesture. His body language was relaxed and tranquil as he sauntered off.
How could someone be so calm in the presence of someone so crotchety? I didn’t get to ask that son, but maybe he was thinking of what his mom had been through in her life — her struggles, pains, heartaches. Maybe she was a single mom who had raised him and loved him to the best of her ability while holding down two jobs and fighting to keep poverty at bay. Maybe he chose to remember her better qualities before life and old age had beaten her down into the wizened, unhappy creature she now was.
Whatever his motivation, his loving behavior with his not-nice-to-be-around mother really touched me, and I prayed right there and then for that level of patience with people I find hard to deal with. That man has no idea how much his kindness impacted me, but I hope I can follow his example and live love the way he did.