Technology eludes me.
I have a generator and a shortwave radio, a video camera, and a cell phone – none of which I know how to operate.
At Chicago’s O’Hare Airport on a recent Friday evening, November 11, I was trying to find someone who might be willing and able to show me how to use my cell phone. I’ve had it for almost three years and have used it a dozen times.
I needed to buy more time on a prepaid calling card so that I could call my daughter Kym in Ohio. I needed to let her know that I made it to Chicago and would be landing in Cleveland about 10:45, where I would be meeting Becki, my other daughter, who was flying in from Clovis, California, via Dallas, Texas. Together, we were on our way to Akron to be with a critically ill son and brother.
Eventually, I called Kym from a pay phone, but I still had an hour before my flight to Cleveland and I wanted to get the cell phone working.
Airports and airplanes aren’t the social places they once were. People talked to and looked at each other in days gone by. Now, every face was buried in a newspaper, book, or magazine – every ear had a cell phone attached – and every lap held a laptop.
A long legged young man about 20 years old was sitting next to me in the boarding area; he was reading a book and wearing earphones. I tapped him on the arm. He removed the earphones, put the book down, looked expectantly at me and smiled.
“Do you know anything about cell phones?” I said.
“I need to find out how to buy more time on my Verizon card and I don’t know how to do that.”
“Oh, I don’t know anything about those. I’m from Canada and our cell phones are different than yours.”
I thanked him, settling back in my seat with a small sigh.
There were hundreds of people in my section of O’Hare. Someone knows how to do this. Go and find that someone. I told myself.
In the chaos of the concourse I wandered about, eyeing a possible candidate for the job.
Standing against a wall and slightly out of the main rush, I saw a short female with large brown eyes, and lots of dark curly hair. She had just completed a phone conversation. I stepped up to her before she could make another call and I asked her the same question I asked the young man.
“Do you know anything about cell phones?”
“A little,” she said, smiling
Over the next half hour she assisted me – making a dozen calls, taking the battery out of my phone to give the number to the Verizon agent, called me on my phone from hers to check that it was working, and every time there was a pause and another step to take I held her in place with my eyes so that she wouldn’t get tired of the whole process, hand me my phone and walk away.
I said at least twice, “Don’t go away.”
She laughed and assured me that she wouldn’t.
Finally, it was time to give the agent a credit card number to buy the new prepaid card and I gave the wrong set of numbers on the back of the credit card.
The beautiful young woman was willing to start all over again, but I was finished.
“I wish that I could take you to dinner, but my flight will be boarding soon.” I said.
“Mine too, and I have to get to the other concourse.”
“Please take this for your time.” I said. I tried to give her a twenty dollar bill.
“No way! I don’t need that,” she said. “I was glad to do it.”
“Where are you going?” I said.
“I’m going to visit my sister in South Dakota. She just got home from Afghanistan. My husband and I just got back from Iraq.”
“And you’re telling me that you can’t use some extra-money?” I said, trying again to give her the twenty.
“I can’t take that,” she insisted.
“You have to take it because there are a lot of gifts coming your way and if you say no to this one, the others won’t present themselves,” I warned her.
“In that case, I will. I only wish that I could have done more to help you.”
“You have no idea how much you gave me. This morning when I created my day I said, ‘Today, I will know extra-ordinary people. I will have an encounter with the unusual.’ You are the extra-ordinary being who has allowed me to have this unusual encounter.”
“You said that so beautifully, I think I’m going to cry,” she said.
“Please give me your name, address and phone number.” I replied.
When she finished writing them in my address book, she wrote in her own notebook the names of two DVDs I had mentioned earlier in our conversation: “What the Bleep Do We Know?!” and “Wakeup.”
As she turned and headed in the opposite direction, I said quietly: Thank you, God, thank you.
And that’s how I met Aiah McInnis; a magnificent woman, a giving God, and a hero.
I plan to phone her on Thanksgiving, and send her a surprise Christmas package.
© 2011 Tari Parker
Editor’s Note: After her trip, Tari contacted me and said that her son is feeling better after receiving this visit from her and his sister, Becki. Tari indicated that his serious medical condition is stabilized, now, allowing her to feel sufficiently comfortable to return home.
Tari is a frequent contributor to the Mountain News, sharing her incredible encounters with folks – from finding a Good Samaritan in O’Hare Airport, to a woman at an Onalaska gas station overwhelmed by her motherhood.