I rolled my knee walker up to the desk at my departing gate and approached the attendant. Politely, I waited while he typed, answered a phone call, typed some more, and discussed matters of importance with a colleague. Eventually I spoke up, “Excuse me, can you answer a couple quick questions?”
“Just a moment” he said without looking up from his screen. He kept right on typing.
I waited a bit longer. Soon I needed to put my weight on my knee walker and considered sitting down on it when pain started shooting up my “good” leg, but knew I had better not. The attendant wouldn’t be able to see me from behind his desk, and ‘out of sight, out of mind’.
After a few more minutes he spoke to me. Well, he spoke while looking at his computer screen, but I guessed that his words were directed at me.
“What do you need.”
Hmmm. That was a loaded question! A new foot? better pain management? a bit of lunch would be fine, thank you! I settled for, “Can I get a valet tag from you?”
“We aren’t offering valet service on this flight. If your bag is too big to be stowed in the cabin you will have to check it.” He was still looking at his computer screen.
“Do I need to check my knee walker? I generally roll down the jetway…”
I backed up a bit so he could see my fully tricked out knee walker complete with an extra padded seat, horn, and cup holder.
“Oh you’re ADA.” Looking back at his computer.
“Regulations require that we offer you wheelchair assistance. Can you walk?”
“Only a few steps.”
He stepped around his desk to put the valet tag on my walker and then quickly back to his screen. He resumed typing.
“Which leg is affected.”
Hmmmm. Another tricky question. Technically my whole body is affected – but I settled for “It’s my left foot,” pointing to the naked, red, puffy lump at the end of my leg.
“What is your seat assignment?”
“Regulations require that you sit with your good leg on the outside toward the aisle.”
He was still looking at his computer.
“I need to have a left window seat to…”
“FAA requires you to be able to get out of your seat with your good leg.”
“I understand. That actually works out. I need to keep my foot away from the aisle and other passengers. It’s very sensitive…” He was already talking.
“If it is your left foot, you will need to sit on the left side of the plane.”
“Yes, that’s what I said.”
“Do I need to change your seat assignment?”
“No, I’m in 12A – seat A is on the left — rrright?” I said with a smile – attempting but failing to bring some humor into this conversation.
The attendant did not smile.
“Seats A and B are on the left and seats C, D, and E are on the right. You are in the correct seat for your disability.
Ouch. He used that “D” word.
“Do you need assistance down the jetway?”
“No I can make it if there aren’t any steps.”
“Regulations require that we offer you wheelchair assistance should you need it.”
“I can make it if there aren’t any steps.”
“I will need to accompany you down the jetway then.” He was already walking toward the entrance.
“I don’t…” I really didn’t need or want this humorless robot accompanying me anywhere, but he was already at the doorway.
I rolled over to the jetway and down the tunnel toward the plane. The attendant followed a few steps behind me. He watched without a word as I pushed my way up an incline. He waited as I balanced on my good leg when metal strips made the walker wobble. It was a workout, but it felt good to be moving on my own.
At the entrance to the plane, I stopped and began to collapse my walker, securing the handle bars with a bright green bungee cord. And then I took a limping step toward the plane.
“Wait!” The attendant was still with me. “You can’t walk in there with your foot bare. It’s a health hazard.”
I began to explain, “I have a medical condition…”
“FAA regulations require all passengers have their feet covered.”
“I’ve been unable to wear anything, a sock or a shoe, for over a year…”
I decided it was my turn to interrupt him.
“If I could wear something on my foot, I would. I am traveling to see a doctor who thinks he might be able to treat this condition.” My voice raised in exasperation.
A steward on the plane overheard our conversation and stuck his head out the door. He made eye contact with me. He smiled at me.
“The ADA trumps the FAA – come on board.” With a wave of his hand, he invited me to board the plane. I stepped forward and I didn’t look back.
Once in my seat I wondered about the steward’s comment. ADA trumps FAA. So under the Americans with Disabilities Act, my rights as a “disabled” person trump the safety rules and regulations created by the Federal Aviation Agency designed to protect all passengers? That couldn’t be right. I had to ask. When the steward came to check on me I asked.
“Is it true that the ADA trumps the FAA?”
He shook his head with a grin, “No ma’am – but I could see you needed to get off that foot and on this plane. No one here cares a bit if your foot is bare.” He gave a laugh, “I bet Phil is back at the gate researching the regs right now! But you’re safe. The door is closed.”
I sat back and watched as our plane pulled away from the gate and considered the difference between the law and grace.
The law creates hoops to jump through and places them impossibly high, just out of reach.
Grace creates a path around the hoops.
The law slaps you with labels with industrial strength adhesive, labels that make you wince and feel small, inept, disregarded.
Grace frees you from those labels and embraces you with endearing words of comfort.
The law coldly closes the door in the face your failure to measure up. It despises your weakness and is immune to your pain.
Grace throws the door wide, and waves you in with a warm smile. It pulls up a chair and offers to bathe your aching feet in cool water.
The law is a slave master, a cruelly demanding instructor, an unrelenting drill sergeant who never lets up the pressure.
Grace is a tender lover, a nurturing parent, a kind hand.
The law rejects, but grace connects.
Lord, thank you for Your grace. Thank you for all the times I was surprised by a kind, warm smile and gentle hand. Help me to be more gracious. Help me to graciously love those who cling to the law out of fear and insecurity. Give me the courage to be slow to reject and quick to connect.