Typical airline chaos occurred for us early this morning and in the chaos came a blessing. We were held up an hour in our own hometown and it was 6:00 a.m. Our connecting flight was changed up and we were off in a different direction with three airports and three hours behind. They were holding a flight for us late arrivers and Ridley and I were split up. I made my way back to the front of the plane in search of an empty seat somewhere. I found one at the very front. That was a first. I don’t know that I have ever found a front row seat even when I boarded early.
On my right was a mother of 5 kids (4 were adopted) and a previous missionary in Wales. I looked to my left and there sat Shane. Shane was a former soldier who was twenty six years old. I instantly knew he was a fighter. He wasn’t dressed in camo. He was missing both legs. I smiled at him and decided not to pretend that I didn’t notice. I asked him what happened. I find myself meeting people all across the country and often find them sharing their stories with me after only a few moments. Therefore, I skip the chitty chat and get right to the heart of knowing someone. I wanted to know Shane’s story. When he was twenty years old, he was fighting for our country in Iraq. He stepped on a mine and lost both legs. He showed me his massive ring which was a trophy of serving to him. It looked like a Super Bowl ring, but paled in comparison to his personal sacrifice. I could tell he was proud. He had on shorts. I couldn’t see any part of his legs but I saw a whole lot of his heart.
He began to share random stories as if he was sharing flashbacks. I could tell some were his favorite memories and some were painful. As he relived some of the painful ones, I noticed his eyes would squint more. He still sported the typical crew cut and spoke with passion as if he didn’t care who heard some of his details. I tuned everything else out and listened intently so my brain could retain his incredible story. He was open and honest which made my bold questions easier. I asked him if he hurt. He explained that he didn’t have shooting pain but he experienced phantom pains at times as if his whole leg was there. He went on to explain that he had to be revived after bleeding out and that he suffered a lack of oxygen to the brain. Therefore, he can’t read and write very well. I complimented him on his clear speech. He said he had been working hard and then he introduced me to his travel companion. He acted as if they were buddies, but informed me that he has someone appointed to him to travel so he can read airport and street signs. He still doesn’t have a driver’s license. He joked a bit about that and shared that he had some weight to lose before he could get his prosthetics. He admitted that part had been hard. He said his army crawl had been helpful and that was why he had jacked arms. He quickly grinned as if he was embarrassed that he had even said that.
I told him I was proud that he wasn’t sitting at home and feeling sorry for himself. He shared all these cool adventures he had been on in the last six years. He talked about his two chihuahuas that love to ride on the side of his wheelchair. I asked him if he was angry after what he had experienced. He said what angered him the most was the soldiers that come home injured and give up. I asked if it was frustrating for him to watch the news knowing the reality of war. He told me he can’t watch the news. He quickly indicated that he doesn’t like the “government” and he is so burdened for our country and the economy. He doesn’t want kids to suffer and people to lose their homes. Compassion for others was oozing out of his words. When I asked him if he would do it all again, he immediately said, “Oh yeah”. “I am a soldier” that is what I went to do. I asked him if he was ever afraid and he said, “No”. I waited to see if he would change his mind. He must have guessed that was what I was doing because he repeated, “No. Not at all”.
I then jumped right to the loaded question. How do you feel about Jesus? He rushed to pull a necklace from under his t-shirt. It was s huge silver cross. He said he tried to go to Heaven but God must not have wanted him yet. He chuckled. He quickly mentioned his desire to add St. Jude’s hospital on his travel agenda to cheer kids up. He went back to talking about his anger and how he has to deal with it often. He looked at me and said, “I don’t wake up and just forget I don’t have legs”. I told him I hope he felt appreciated for his service. I also told him I was super proud that he was using his story to encourage others and that I believe God does that to keep us on track and to minister to others. He refuses pain medication because he doesn’t like it and was quick to joke that he is an Aleve addict.
Before we had to get off the plane, I made sure I told him I would be praying for him. The flight attendant informed him that his wheelchair was coming and he told her he wasn’t going anywhere. I asked him what people need to know about people without their limbs and he said, “Don’t act like you don’t see it. Just treat us like people just like you have, Lisa”. As I stood, He shook my hand and I humbly walked away grateful for a crowded flight that allowed me to hear from a real hero.