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  • Janyne McConnaughey, PhD

BRAVE Travel Stories: Pay it Forward

We arrived at the gate yesterday about an hour before our flight was to leave. Atlanta TSA is grueling, and I sighed loudly as I settled in to wait. Traveling involves a lot of waiting, but I always approach it with expectation.

The woman next to me was headed home to Vancouver and had been with her daughter at the conference. We watched as a mother and daughter came running down the concourse to the gate ... to board the plane that had just closed its doors.

The mother and daughter were two of five who missed the plane. There had been plenty of announcements, but they didn't get there in time. (My worst travel fear!) The woman next to me and the man across from her all shared sympathetic looks as several began crying. One younger woman had been on her phone and missed all the announcements. I wondered what the conversation was about.

The mother and daughter (around ten years old) sat down across from us. The mother began making distressed phone calls and checking at the desk. She stopped at one point and gave the girl the food she was carrying. They probably missed the plane because of that food. The girl was quiet.

There wouldn't be another plane until the next morning (for their airlines), but as the woman talked to her mother, we heard her say that she could transfer to a different airline and leave very soon, but it would be additional cost. This was clearly a problem. The girl was quiet.

I nudged Scott. He looked at me and said, "Yes." (We have traveled many difficult paths in 40 years for him to instantly understand the nudge.) Then Scott told the woman to come to the counter with him and we would get them on the plane. The look of shock told me that this was beyond anything she could imagine someone doing for her. The girl looked at her mother and at us trying to understand as her mother hugged us and explained it to her.

Within a few minutes they were on their way back down the concourse to a new gate. Once again running, but the girl stopped and came to hug us. The look in her deep brown eyes told me this memory of kind strangers would probably never be forgotten. I hope it helps her grow up knowing the world really can be a safe and caring place.

Several including the woman next to me and the man across from her watched all this in delighted wonder. She already had my ATN business card and author card, but I handed the man my cards and said, "This is why I am in Atlanta. We just finished a conference for Creating Trauma Sensitive Schools."

He glanced at my cards and then looked up and said, "You helped heal a child's trauma today." I smiled. He understood exactly what we did--and why we did it.

Scott and I have received so much love and support through friends and ATN over the past week. It was a joy to have such an unexpected opportunity to pay it forward. Trauma-informed isn’t just a concept, it is a way of viewing life and the struggles others face. It is a conscious choice to step in to alleviate suffering—especially for children.

I hope their trip turned out exactly as they dreamed it would; our trip turned out far better than expected.

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