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Sunday, May 20, 2018

My Mama Bear - Even For a Stranger

I almost didn't feel the need share this crazy story of mine but, in the midst of my fury and feelings of total helplessness from this week's news, I'm trying to remember the positive things in my life; the things I actually can do to make a difference, even if it's a small one.

I recently flew to California for my grandfather's memorial. On my way there, I had to make a connecting flight in Phoenix. My flight into Phoenix arrived late, so I missed my connection. I was stuck in Phoenix for the night, alone, it was late, I was tired. I had checked my luggage so all I had was my carry on - a book, my purse and a bottle of water.

I stumbled around the airport and found the information desk. I asked for a list of nearby hotels and was told there were many, but they would probably all be booked solid due to events happening that weekend. I started cold calling from the long list of hotels anyway.

While I was calling (and finding that the hotels were indeed booked solid), I noticed a young lady beside me who was in the same predicament; she had missed her connection to LAX and was stranded at the airport. I noticed she had an accent. I shared the hotel list with her and we both made calls looking for available rooms.

Seven phone calls later, she was the first to find an available room, the last room left at this hotel. While I continued to call around for a room for myself, and while she was trying to book her room, I learned that she was only 17, had been traveling the US for the last three weeks alone, and was on her way home to New Zealand.

Since she was only 17, the hotel would not allow her to reserve the room. She hung up. The employee at the information desk turned to me and said that I should take advantage of this opportunity, call that hotel and take the room for myself.

I stood there like a deer in headlights. What do I do? Could I really take this room for myself, and in front of this strange girl, and leave her there to figure out her own way?

I called the hotel, started booking the room, and then made a choice that I didn't really think about first. I turned to this young lady from New Zealand and told her that I was going to get this room for myself...and that she was coming with me.

We had been standing there together for all of 10 minutes. I didn't even know her name. It was midnight. The airport was close to empty. But I knew I had to take her with me.

I told her I was 40 and married and had kids of my own. I was stuck at the airport, too. I showed her pictures of my family. I told her I was from Colorado, to which she asked me "Is Colorado one of the states?" Funny. I did everything I could think of to make her feel safe, and that this was OK. We both had flights out the next morning.

So that's what I did - I took her with me.

About an hour later, we arrived at the hotel. I found that she and I felt very relaxed with each other. There were no awkward silences, no judging looks from either of us. I gave her one of the room keys. We kicked off our shoes and slept in our clothes since neither of us had luggage. Right before I fell asleep, I was lying there in the dark thinking - I am in a strange room in a strange city with a strange girl from New Zealand. It was surreal. I wondered if she was thinking the same about me. Probably.

After a few hours of sleep, we awoke at 5am to go back to the airport. She made a joke and said, "I need to pack before we go" threw her phone into her carry on bag and said "OK, all packed!"

When we were back at the airport, I walked her to her gate. I gave her a hug and told her good luck. I didn't ask for her phone number or email to keep in touch, and she didn't ask for mine. Just a simple hug, a goodbye, and I turned and left her there to find my own gate. I never even found out her last name.

Hopefully she got home safely. Hopefully, one day, she'll remember that crazy weird night and pay it forward. Hopefully, she left the US on a good note and knows that we Americans aren't all what the rest of the world must think we've become.

It was nice meeting you, Kaitlynn.


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