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Two Words That Brought Me to Tears at Gate D16

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Four days before Christmas, while everyone was busy shopping for last-minute gifts and spending time with their family, I was alone at the airport wiping tears from my eyes and sniffling under my mandatory mask. The tears that ran down my cheeks weren’t from a fight with my husband, fear of flying, or injury to my body… they were caused by a little boy at gate D16.

To understand the tears, I need to share the nights’ events with you.

It all started on the Monday before Christmas. With only a few hours to pack my clothes, spontaneous flight arrangements were made to travel across the country to be with a sick relative. My husband dropped me off at the airport and I checked my baggage. For a Monday evening in Terminal 3, the airport was empty, and going through security was a breeze. I traveled up the final escalator to wait at Gate D16… and that’s when I heard it.

As soon as I turned the corner, I could hear the screaming of a child.

“Well, this will be a fun flight”, I thought. Before sitting at the gate listening more to the screaming, I walked across the corridor to grab a Coke at the only store open. I remembered to bring saltine crackers for my overnight flight, but I needed a little caffeine to keep me going.

With my new soda packed away in my backpack, I made my way over to my gate and sat on the last seat on the first row I came to. Pulling out my laptop to knock out a few work projects, the screaming started back up. I looked over my laptop to see the screaming child was actually a little boy about 3-4 years old. He appeared to be with his big brother, sitting beside him on the end of my row, with a white hoodie pulled over his head, totally ignoring his little brother. In front of them, was an airport wheelchair filled with carry-on bags.

The screaming continued off and on for about 15 minutes while I worked… and my mama instincts just kicked in and I packed up my laptop and moved to sit closer to this family. All the while, I was thinking “why isn’t this big brother consoling his little brother and where is their mother/grandmother who should be in that wheelchair?”

As I sat in my new seat, just one seat away from the screaming toddler, I took a closer look. The big brother was actually a woman, her head still covered with the hood of her sweatshirt, head bent over with her eyes closed (as if tired or in pain). She was the person that should have been in the wheelchair in front of them, the person visibly exhausted and unable to walk.

The little boy looked over at me and I said, “Hi… what’s wrong?”.

He quickly turned away, looked at his mom, and started screaming again.

Hmmm… well, I guess he doesn’t want to talk with me.

I then noticed a couple walking by with McDonald’s bags and drinks, the little boy watching them intently. As they walked in front of us, he held out his hands and then started screaming even louder as they walked past and sat a few rows back.

I remember thinking how odd that was, his reaction as if the little boy thought they were bringing him McDonald’s.

Once again, I opened my backpack to pull out my laptop and that’s when I noticed this little boy looking at me. His eyes got wide and he went from looking at my face to now studying the contents of my backpack. With the laptop removed, you could now see the contents of my bag, my saltine crackers now visible.

He walked over to me, looked me in the eyes and held out his hands and said, “I’m hungry” and then gestured to my bag.

“You want some crackers?” I said, totally in shock by the words coming out of his mouth and in disbelief that any kid would want saltine crackers from a stranger.

I looked over to his mom and asked, “can he have some crackers?”.

She raised her head, looked over at him, then to me, and nodded in agreement.

I handed the little boy my sleeve of crackers and he grabbed the package, set it in his seat, and began opening the package. In record time, he started eating as if he was starving and hadn’t eaten all day.

The only thing to describe what I was feeling was complete and utter shock. That poor little boy was devouring my saltine crackers like they were his favorite candy.

While the little boy feasted, I opened my backpack to pull out my iPad when I noticed the little boy looking up and starring my way again. He was looking inside my bag and could see my newly purchased Coke. He spoke again saying, “soda. Can I have a soda?”

What the heck?

Once again, I looked at the mom, who raised her head (still under the hoodie), looked at her son, then at me, and nodded.

I reached into my bag, grabbed the Coke, and opened it while handing it to the little boy. He grabbed it with a smile and began gulping it down.

While still in shock, probably evident on my face, I hear our gate agent announce that boarding has begun. I proceeded to pack my laptop and iPad away into this Mary Poppins backpack. With no time to go back to the store and purchase more snacks for my flight or to even purchase more food for the little boy, I tell him goodbye and stand-up to start walking to the gate.

Then, a wheelchair attendant walks over to the woman and I can hear him say to her, “Amy, I can’t believe you missed your flight. They can’t get you out on another flight until Wednesday.”

Oh my gosh… oh my gosh! That’s two days away. I’m totally trying not to eavesdrop, but I can’t believe what I just heard.

I was already walking away… but, I had to do something!

I turned around, walked back to the woman, the boy, and the wheelchair attendant… and said, “I live here in Las Vegas. I have to leave now to board my plane, but I have family here. Is there anyone I can call or anything I can do to help you?”.

The woman still didn’t talk, but the wheelchair attendant looked at me and smiled, “thank you for sharing your food with him. We’ll figure something out.”

I smiled behind my face mask, turned around, and walked to board my flight.

With tears streaming down my face, walking down the skybridge, I pulled out my cell phone and called my husband. “You have to come back to the airport. You have to park and come to Gate D16. You have to find this woman and little boy and see if they need food, hotel, rental car… anything.”

Snot is pouring from my nose, my glasses are fogging up from the tears in my eyes… and I try to convey to my husband what I just witnessed, the little boy, the crackers, the Coke, and the conversation I overheard.

“You have such a bleeding heart. The airport will take care of them, don’t worry honey” he said.

I proceeded walking with my fellow passengers, sniffling, and moving forward slowly.

In utter disbelief.

I work for a non-profit, I give to charities, I volunteer for my church, I donate to food pantries… but, NEVER in my life, has a child looked me in the eyes and said, “I’m hungry”. Never have I witnessed first hand the immediate impact the gift of food can make. Never have I been so emotionally crushed by the needs of someone that I couldn’t meet. Never have I felt so inadequate and overwhelmed by the needs of someone so close to me in proximity.

I continued on to board my flight, I flew all night, made it to my destination, and have been busy caring for the family that I came out to help. But, not a second has gone by that I haven’t thought about that little boy, hoping that his mom was able to provide him with food and that they were able to reach their destination. I think about that wheelchair attendant, and the kind words he said to me, and the care he took with that family.

I hope that this story touches your heart.

That you are inspired to help others around you… especially during this time.

That you don’t turn away when you see a fellow brother or sister in need, but that you act with your heart.

That you listen to the still small voice inside you.

That you give what you can, even if it means you might sacrifice a little.

That you give for the sake of giving, not the accolades that might come with it, or the tax deduction you might receive.

That you share your crackers with a stranger and give a kid a Coke.

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