As my “unwanted” birthday was fast approaching, my prayer got longer and longer everyday:
“Please Almighty, don’t take away my walking ability too soon. I enjoy my independence more than anything. And keep my mind alert and my hands dexterous as they have been all these years so that I can still play the cello, still knit and crochet, and cook, too. But please do something about my fading memory. I keep burning dinner in the oven while practicing or talking on the phone. In this bad economy, who can afford such waste?”
As always, the Almighty kept His silence, but I knew that He heard my prayer and will grant my wishes somehow. How did I know it? It’s simple. I would not be here in the U.S. today had I not prayed six decades ago as a child living in war-devastated South Korea.
His answer came two weeks ago, on my way to Pittsburgh to spend Christmas with my family. My husband couldn’t go because of work, so I went alone. To be truthful, it took a bit of courage, because I have not traveled alone for a long time. “You can do it,” I said to my reflection in the mirror, my Old-Self. “You’ve come a long way! Nothing to worry about!”
On the morning of my departure from KCI, however, I had things to worry about. As soon as my husband drove away I kept asking myself, “Did I bring my driver’s license? What did I do with my boarding pass? Is my suitcase small enough to fit in the overhead compartment?”
The worst fear came when the plane landed in Charlotte, N.C., where I had to board the plane heading for Pittsburgh within 30 minutes. I exited through Gate C-7 and followed the passengers. So many people were walking all around me, some at a snail’s pace. I wished I were on roller skates and could zoom to my destination in a blink of an eye. In truth, I’ve never been on them. Roller skates and bicycles were forbidden items for girls in Korea when I was a teenager.
I walked long and far, pulling my suitcase on wheels with one hand and carrying a bag with another. Where on earth is Gate B-6? All I could see were Gate C-something. Seeing a harmless looking young man passing me with a tote bag, I asked, “Excuse me; where is Gate B-6?”
“That’s in B Concourse,” he said. “We have to take the escalator over there,” he pointed, “and go downstairs to take the train to Concourse B. I’m heading that way myself!”
My angel, I thought. I followed him diligently and I made it to B-6 on time. In the crowded plane, I sat next to a quadriplegic gentleman in his mid-50s. My simple “Good morning! How are you today?” encouraged him to talk, and in the following 20 minutes I learned much about him. With great difficulty and twisting his facial muscles, he asked me where I was going. When I told him, he said that he used to live in Pittsburgh but had moved to Birmingham, Ala. His sister and his bother-in-law still lived in Pittsburgh and would be waiting for him when the plane landed.
He asked how long I lived in the U.S., what I do, what my husband does and how I liked living in Kansas City. Hearing that my husband was a database engineer, he said that he used to be a computer programmer before he moved to Birmingham.
I had a bit of doubt about what he’d just said, but I remembered watching the movie “My left Foot” a while ago. It was an unbelievable testimony of a man with cerebral palsy who used his toes to do the job of his hands and became a respected painter and author.
“Isn’t it difficult for you to travel alone?” I asked my seat partner.
“No, people take good care of me,” he said, without hesitation.
I admired his courage. At the same time, I felt ashamed of my cowardice. All my doubts about aging melted away, and I said, “Almighty, forget what I said earlier. You’ll never hear another complaint from my lips!”
“Not even about your birthday coming?”
“No! Wait, how old will I be?”
“What does it matter when you’ve come this far?” said the Lord.
Overland Park resident and retired musician Therese Park has written three novels. Her most recent, “The Northern Wind: Forced Journey to North Korea,” is available at www.thereseparkbook.com and Rainy Day Books.