Louise at Sixteen

I’m always early. Always have been. Not entirely sure why, but it comes with a couple of perks, especially when traveling through airports. The best seat at the gate, no rushing about, and an outlet should you need to charge a phone. It also gives you the opportunity to watch everyone else running about.

Today, I watched folks jockeying for positions in lines so that they could get through security faster, chatting up airline desk attendants attempting to score an upgrade, and the occasional grouch, who no matter the situation, is going to find that one thing. And then there was… well, I don’t know her name, but she looked like a Louise, so Louise it is.

Louise was at least seventy, she appeared to have difficulties with balance–her gait was almost a stumble at every step–hair gray, and a bit overweight, but who am I to talk about that one. I watched Louise and I watched all the other travelers around me. What struck me about Louise is that, unlike everyone else, Louise wasn’t catching a flight this morning. Louise was cleaning. Going behind all of us, wiping up our spills, picking up our trash, wiping our fingerprints off the windows, mopping floors that we had tracked up, etc. As I watched her, I wondered if anybody else actually saw her (the fact that I did does not make me special, it was just me doing the people watching thing). What I wondered about Louise: I wondered what she was like at sixteen.

I saw a young girl in a pastel dress, with white socks (a bit of lace around the top), and shiny black shoes. I saw a girl trying to be a woman with her hair pulled back, a bit of color on her cheeks, and a smile to break the boys’ hearts. I saw a future unfolding and then I wondered again: when she was sixteen, did she see herself at seventy cleaning up after me as I passed through some random airport? Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with a custodial job. Had one myself for three years before going off to seminary. It is honest “clean” work, but I just wondered about Louise at sixteen. Is this how she saw life working out for her? I doubt it. Would she like to be boarding one of the hundreds of planes she sees departing everyday? Taking some exotic trip? Getting away from it all if for only a few days? I’m certain of it.

I saw a young girl in a pastel dress. She pushed her cleaning cart through an “Employees Only” door and disappeared. That young girl disappeared. I wonder if she thinks the same thing.

One Reply to “Louise at Sixteen”

  1. I think about this a lot when I people watch. Who were they when they were very young? What stories would they tell if someone took time to listen? So often life turns out so different from what we pictured in our youth, in good and in bad ways. It’s a gift to get a glimpse of the child in others, because I think a part of us never truly does age. It just gets covered up with all the trappings of progress.

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