My Hallmark Christmas Story

By Leslie Sann

Will you be my neighbor?
~ Fred Rogers

My girlfriend and I spent the week at a retreat and are returning home. She is traveling to Canada, and I am flying back to Chicago. We’re going on different airlines. It’s a small airport. Her check-in is right next to mine. I complete before she does, and I walk over to stand by her, curious about the delay, as she has no luggage to check. As I approached the counter, I was informed that she had missed her plane.

She had been unwell all week, feeling under the weather, cloudy-headed, and doing her best to put one foot in front of the other. Though she usually checked in before getting to the airport, she was so tired the night before she chose to go to bed and check in at the airport. Thus, she didn’t discover that she had incorrectly remembered the departure time.

Johnny, the agent at Alaska Airlines, was doing everything in his power to find her another way home. Can she stay overnight in Monterey and go through Seattle? What do you think about taking the airbus to San Francisco? Above and beyond whatever his requirements were as an agent, doing what he could to get her home.

He finally laid out a route for her, only to discover he couldn’t book it due to how she had purchased her ticket. She had to call the airlines that had issued the ticket and negotiate with them. When we called, we found the wait to speak to an agent was forever and a day long.

It was clear my friend was not feeling great. Johnny’s concern for her was enormous, and I could see his heart pulling him into action. He could not tell her sorry; I can do nothing for you. He couldn’t send us away.

To make things more complicated, my friend discovered upon arrival in California that her cell service had changed, and she could no longer make calls from the United States. Therefore, once I boarded my flight, she had no access to a telephone. Figuring this out was becoming crucial.

Johnny came out from behind the counter and joined us at a standing table as we brainstormed ways to get my friend home. He pulled out his cell and started to look at options. He was more resourceful than us, as this is his line of work. It took a while, and Johnny devised a plan to get her to San Francisco in an Uber and then a flight to Seattle. She would stay overnight in Seattle. From Seattle, it was home on a clipper, a 2-hour and 45-minute ferry ride.

Johnny couldn’t see her in distress and leave her there for no reason other than the goodness and caring of his heart for a neighbor who shares the planet. The two of us were so grateful for this man’s kindness that we hugged him together, surrounding him with our arms and appreciation.

When my friend went to tip him, he refused. He got embarrassed and even blushed. He said I didn’t do it for that. Of course, you didn’t. And it’s lovely to say thank you with more than words. She put the money in my hand, and I slipped it into his shirt pocket. We hugged him again.

I arranged for her Uber and went through security without knowing if she had gotten in the car. Ten minutes later, Johnny found me at my gate to tell me she was OK. I feel tears in my heart as I write this. This man’s kindness in action to me was magnificent beyond description.

Gratefully my friend’s phone could text, so we stayed in contact. Quite the journey home for her, and she focused on what she was being provided, one step at a time. Just the next step.

My flight was routed through San Francisco. While waiting for my plane to Chicago, I went to the United Club to plug in my devices and get nourishment. I wasn’t as hungry as I thought, so I tucked the sandwich on my plate into my bag to eat on the plane. It was still in my bag as I walked through the airport to the shuttle area to get the van that took me to my car.

While hauling my bags behind me, I passed a homeless man calling out to everyone who walked by. I didn’t hear what he said as it was late, I was tired and focused on getting home. Then I heard him say, “sandwich.” Oh, I have a sandwich. I stopped, turned around and gave him my food. He thanked me, letting me know he was hungry for real food as people had been giving him candy all day.

Will you be my neighbor?

I was grateful for being used by something greater than all of us so that I could contribute to this man as Johnny did to my friend. As I arrived at the curb to be transported to my car, I found the bus waiting.

How does it get any better than this?