O’Hare Airport, Chicago, Illinois, November 30. I needed cash and took the right hand turn towards the BMO Harris ATM. An older adult woman in a wheelchair with an attendant rested sideways to the ATM, wanting cash. She had repeated trouble reaching and hitting the right suggestions on the screen. Her assistant had his back turned, protecting her privacy. When I arrived she was retrieving her first card due to an inaccurate pin number. She had taken nearly three minutes to get to this point; impatience was showing around my edges.
She drew out a second credit card. She repeated the routine. I thought: why don’t I step up to the ATM, interrupt them, handle my business, and move on to my gate, which by the way didn’t board for over an hour? Her second card was rejected to her increasing despair. She hung her head in frustration, sadness, and anxiety. Over my shoulder a young couple rolled their eyes in unison, indicating they thought this old lady was an intolerable pain. They apparently didn’t need cash so desperately and moved on. Not me. I needed cash and this was the last ATM of my bank before the gate.
Frustration and impatience increased as she reached for a third card; painfully reached, her anxiety rising together with her confusion. Her escort and I both now began to coach her in hopes that this time the card would work. She lowered her requested amount from $40 to $20. The screen noted she had exceeded her available credit. She was crushed. The young man’s face empathetically frowned. I was frustrated. Then the young man said quietly, yet loud enough for all to hear, “Don’t worry! You don’t have to give me anything. Really. This is my job!” All she wanted to do was give thanks to this young man for helping her through the airport from car to gate. When the screen showed no funds her head drooped, her hands went to her lap, and a profound sadness enveloped her face. They left the ATM and headed towards her gate.
Realizing my own shortsightedness, I quickly inserted my card, took my money, and headed to find them. This shouldn’t be so hard, I thought, there aren’t that many people in wheelchairs. The hallway reached out with people shoulder to shoulder. Looking left a twosome came into sight and I headed their way. After weaving and dodging for 100 yards, there they were! He was talking kindly to her as he pulled her over to wait. I knelt down next to her; “You want to help this young man for his kindness. I saw you at the ATM. Here’s some money for you to give him.” I handed her $20. “Oh, thank you honey! You don’t know how much this means to me.” “And to me as well!” I thought: you’ll never know. “Merry Christmas!” With a smile on her face and a befuddled look on the young man’s, I turned towards my gate grateful, once again, for Advent and Jesus’ unusual and beautiful ways of showing up.
The Rev. Alvin Johnson is Canon for Congregational Vitality and Innovation for the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania.