It's been a very good trip so far. The kids are having fun. They love the breakfasts and the pools. They are having fun feeling grown up in their own hotel rooms. (We had three rooms in Wuhan!) They've been great travelers. Conner is as happy as a clam all the time. He loves having a family. There has really only been one thing that has been fairly difficult: the lack of empathy and services for those with disabilities in China.
Cali has grown accustomed to the way she is treated at home. Care and love and a desire to help from family and friends at school at church. I have a renewed gratitude for the way in which the Americans with Disabilities Act helps to provide dignity and accessibility to those whose physical bodies have added challenges. Unfortunately, things are a bit different here. Cali has had to deal with an almost endless barrage of intent stares. People do not hesitate to point, discuss, even follow us for blocks and blocks as we walk, curious about our rather unique group. It’s been an emotionally difficult experience for Cali. On top of that, the accessibility issues abound. There are rarely ramps, and when there are they are often ridiculously steep. Many of the public areas have no elevators. She has had to be lifted up many flights of stairs, either piggy back on me or by having three people lift the chair with her in it. This is truly not an attempt to knock on our beloved China. I’m merely trying to describe some of the difficulties we've had.
The only times I've given in to stress or frustration on this trip have had to do with these accessibility issues. Primarily at the airports. The fact that Cali’s wheelchair doesn't fold just about kept us off of one of our flights. At one airport, they required Cali to be wheeled through a completely separate security area without any of us with her. All alone with one, male airport security person wheeling the airport-supplied chair. She didn't meet up with us again all the way to the actual gate. She was terrified. Poor girl! They don’t have the wheelchairs that fit down the airplane aisles at most airports in China. Therefore, they wheel her to the door of the plane, and then I carry her to her seat. That’s fine, honestly. I feel it a privilege to serve my little princess. Last night we were in row 50, so it was a lengthy carry down the tight aisle. And as I mentioned in an earlier post, my back has been having some significant issues. Once we landed, I carried her back to the door of the plane. Here a young man informed me that I would have to continue to carry her up through the jetway and who knows how much farther. We would meet the airport wheelchair somewhere along the way. Obviously the language barrier made it harder to get a clear understanding of what was going on.
I protested. While one can see why you can’t wheel her down the very narrow aisle of a plane, why in the world couldn't we get a wheelchair into the very wide jetway. While I kept what I actually said in check, my tone of voice and the glare from my eyes communicated an extreme displeasure to the poor young man delivering the message. He explained that it was because we were at the international terminal. Again, the language barrier made it more difficult to get the entire message across. Again, I wondered, “who cares what terminal it is? This jetway is eight feet wide! Get us a wheelchair!” And the daggers in my glare did not decrease. I finally gave up hope and started carrying her down the jetway. It was a long one, and after a couple of turns, it became evident why the young man said we couldn't get a wheelchair. Because it was the international terminal, they weren't letting passengers from our domestic flight directly into the terminal. We were diverted down onto the tarmac via a long flight of steps. At the bottom of the steps a shuttle would take us to the domestic terminal. I carried Cali down the steps and the same sweet young man let me know that the wheelchair was being driven out to us on the tarmac. We would wait at the bottom of the stairs.
We ended up waiting there for about 15 minutes. The young man repeatedly apologized to us for the inconvenience. By this time, my frustration had passed and I felt genuinely sorry for being a grouch. I kept a big smile on my face and made a point of thanking the young man for helping us and staying with us. At one point, Parker came up to Christi and me and said, “That guy who’s helping us just looks like a good guy, doesn't he? He looks like a missionary.” My guilt expanded rapidly. I looked at the young man and reflected on what Parker had said. Park was right. This young man had a light about him. A genuine goodness. I continued to talk to him and be sweet and kind with both him and the kids. Finally our shuttle came. It was a huge shuttle bus, designed to hold over 100 people. Tonight, it was just for us J. Christi, Cali and I were up at the front with our young helper. The other kids went to the few seats in the back and spread out. We talked to each other. We laughed. We had fun. We made the best of a long evening. At one point, Conner began singing Doe-a-Deer, which we didn't even know he was familiar with. I jumped in with him and suddenly all of us (except Cali) sang the entire chorus. (When we were done, Cali looked up at me and said, “I don’t know you!”)
The shuttle finally pulled up to the terminal. As we stepped off and headed inside, this sweet young man turned to me and said, “I think you are a good father. Your family makes me feel warm.” I was humbled. So humbled. This young man had seen and felt the light of Christ through our sweet and wonderful children. In spite of their flawed and fumbling father, through their actions and interactions the rest of my family had shared their testimony of the Savior and what He can do for each individual. How grateful I was that I had also seen their example (particularly the example of my sweet wife) and decided to quit being a curmudgeon and start being the man I ought to be. We will likely never see that young man again, but I hope he remembers our family. I hope he remembers that warmth he felt and recognizes it again sometime in the future. I hope someday he’s in a situation where that warmth will be identified for him as the love of the Savior and that he will be able to act on that information and accept Him. I hope that in the future I will more consistently remember the importance of my own example and not let my weaknesses interfere with subtle opportunities to share the gospel.
I am grateful for what I have. I am grateful for my family. I am grateful for my wife. I am grateful for my Savior.