I’d just fallen into my aisle seat ready for two hours of solitude, a rare commodity in my autism-filled life, when the woman in the window seat leaned in, “I hardly had time to unpack from Colorado, and now I’m flying to Nashville.” She spoke as if it were the first time she’d realized it. “And I’m going to be ninety-six in January.” My face widened with a smile as I reached for her, almost irresistibly.
“I’m Thora,” she said as our hands met.
“Oh! Yes!” She laughed and threw her frail fist up in the air. “I’m just thankful that God has blessed me so.”
My eyes widened. She’s a Christian! Miraculous, considering we both just left Boston. And equally miraculous, as we discovered, was the fact that we live just two miles from one another.
We spent the next several hours flying above the world, laughing and sharing secrets like little girls. Thora told me that when she was young, she and her late husband had been one of 6 couples who prayed for God to “raise up a testimony” in the Boston area. And that prayer has now become the largest evangelical church in the Boston suburbs. A church I now know God built as an answer to the persistent prayers of this tiny woman beside me in 2F. “God is so good” Thora yelled as she raised her well-worn hands into the sky for all to see.
This is how to live when you’re ninety-five, I thought. Boldly trusting. Unafraid. Filled with gratitude. Actually, this is how I want to live today.
I couldn’t wait to see Thora again, and made a date for lunch. As I pulled into her son’s driveway I could see Thora standing at the door ready to welcome me.
It all happened so quickly, and so slowly.
In the excitement of our greeting, Thora took an extra step backward and lost her footing. The portable TV table behind her fell and crashed with a thud against the wall. Papers and books slid across the floor…with Thora’s tiny frame following behind. I watched this woman I barely knew and deeply loved crumple mid-air like a windsock. Her arms lifted outward as she fell back into empty space.
Instantly a multiple-choice list of solutions popped into my mind, one being that Thora’s super-powers would kick in and she would right herself. But that wasn’t going to happen. I could grab her, but at almost ninety-six my strength was certain I’d cause her harm.
So I did what God has done for me, a thousand times over in my journey through special needs, when I am frail and falling, when I don’t know how I’m going to go on, when I am not strong enough for Him to take my hand. When I need more.
I reached for Thora and wrapped my arms around her with a gentle hug and let her fall into my embrace, into my love for her. My heart pounded with adrenaline, each breath a prayer. I didn’t let go. Minutes dragged by, and still neither of us knew if she was ok. And then, slowly, she shifted her weight and stood on her own. “I’m alright,” she said with a sudden bounce in her step, ready to move on to lunch. I looked into Thora’s milky blue eyes, my arms still around her. She didn’t look fearful, or even surprised. Instead, she reached those beautiful hands upward and cupped them around my face.
“Thank you,” she whispered, although perhaps not entirely to me.