I sat down in my seat on the plane. Glenn and I were flying Southwest and we didn’t get a seat together, so he made his way to another one. There was a man in his late twenties sitting next to me and Glenn called to him, “Take care of my wife, please.” The man turned to me and made the sign for ‘crazy’ on the side of his head. Thus began my plane ride with Oliver.
Oliver had Downs Syndrome but was very high functioning. He was smartly dressed in a blue shirt and dark orange, fleece vest. He told me he was going to Oregon to see his sister for Thanksgiving. His mother was in another part of the plane. His father lived in Mexico and would be meeting them there. I told him that we were traveling to California to visit family for the holiday. A little while later, the stewardess came to take drink orders. I ordered a juice and a coffee. Oliver ordered diet soda. He was fascinated that one could order two drinks. He decided to order coffee too. I advised him that if he wanted to nap, he might want to order a decaf coffee, which he did.
After this, we both read and rested for a while. Later, I was relating something about myself (I wish I remembered what!) and Oliver turned to me and said, “That’s so you!” You’d think he was my oldest friend with an intimate knowledge of my personality. But if you’ve ever met anyone with Downs Syndrome, you know what I mean. They treat you as if you are their friend – with affection, familiarity, and none of the walls that seem to exist in many interactions. We arrived at our destination and began to deplane. I told Oliver that it had truly been a pleasure sitting next to him and we shook hands.
Now….you might think the story ends there. I told Glenn and our family of my experience and naturally, they enjoyed hearing the story. We had a GREAT Thanksgiving week. I returned to New York ahead of Glenn because I was to begin another adventure; going to visit my brother, who lives in India. I bid adieu to everyone (with “Feliz Navidad” playing in the airport – remember this for a future blog, “Incredible India.”) I flew the first leg of the journey to Las Vegas and after a short layover, lined up to board the plane to Albany. Who do you think I saw ahead of me in line? You guessed it. Oliver! Now, this would be fantastic in any case, but I was returning the Tuesday after Thanksgiving and Oliver had transferred planes to a different city. He was wearing the same blue shirt and orange fleece vest. Only now he had a colorful scarf tied around his neck. I hate to admit it but I debated passing his aisle and selecting another seat. I had a stack of articles that I wanted to read and check off my “to do” list, and I knew I wouldn’t finish them sitting next to Oliver. But I chose joy over efficiency and sat down next to him.
I think he remembered me, but I’m not sure. He also had a great Thanksgiving and the scarf was a gift his father brought him from Mexico. I had bought some peanut brittle in Las Vegas for my Dad’s Christmas gift. Emblazoned with glitzy writing, the box was sticking out of the bag. Oliver noticed it and told me that he had forgotten to bring back a souvenir for his group home. I debated a moment and then offered him the candy. He gratefully accepted.
We chatted some more and Oliver listened to music on an I-pod. When I closed my eyes, he looked at me and did the same. Later, I was looking at the Mass readings from my daily devotional book and Oliver asked me what I was reading. Thus began a conversation about faith. I told him that I love God and prayed each day. Oliver shared that he too believed in God and that he practiced a faith, although he didn’t say what. I told him that God loved him very much and that he was special to God. He nodded and smiled.
Toward the end of the flight, the stewardess came through collecting trash. Oliver had charmed her earlier just by being himself and she asked him if he’d like to see the cockpit and meet the pilot when we landed. He gladly accepted.
Later, at the baggage carousel, I pointed him out to my parents and they too enjoyed Oliver from afar. In fact, during the course of our India trip, my Dad often told me, “That’s so you,” and made the ‘crazy’ sign a number of times.
Lord, every single child of Yours is INCREDIBLY special and unique but thanks, for creating a person like Oliver. Thinking of him fifteen months later, Oliver gives me as much joy as he did on those two plane trips!
BTW…..THANK YOU readers, for your prayers after our August and October postings. We’ve had answers to the needs we expressed!