The lines for rental cars were as long and slow as the airport security checkpoint lines. We had been traveling for over ten hours, having begun our journey at 4:00am, and were disappointed to have to wait one more time before heading to our resort in Orlando. We inched our way forward between the ropes.
The girls were (and always are) wonderful, but like their parents they were tired of queues. They were starting to fuss and bicker, so I dug deep for inspiration. Inspiration struck in the form of a fort. I situated our 3 drag-along suitcases to form three walls of a fort, with a backpack serving as a doorway. They approved of this activity and promptly initiated their own make-believe game to incorporate the fort.
The unfortunate aspect of this inspiration is that the fort now had to be relocated two feet forward every two minutes. The girls were helpful in this endeavor, with Eleanor trying to lug or scoot the largest suitcase all by herself. When she was mid-shove, a gentleman ahead of us in line said to her, "Wow, you are strong, just like your mother!" I snapped my head to size up this person who would speak to my child. He was tall and of generous proportions, perhaps 55 or 60 years old, with silver hair, a kind face, and clear eyes. It occurred to me that he noticed my fatigue, my head, or some other aspect of my cancer-fighting self. His compliment was directed at me. I smiled and thanked him, reassured that it was a heartfelt comment and nothing else. The fort game resumed at its new location, and I didn't give the commenter another thought.
When we got close to the front of the line, I decided to take the girls to the bathroom so that we'd be ready to get in the car once the keys were in hand. While we were gone, the commenter struck up an interaction with Ian, saying, "I won't let you give this back to me."
"Excuse me?" Ian asked.
The man repeated, "I won't let you give this back to me," and thrust something into Ian's hand. "I don't care what you do with it, I don't care if you throw it away, but you won't give it back to me." In Ian's hand was a crisp 100-dollar bill. The man looked like he was about to cry. He told Ian that his wife had died of melanoma when their youngest child was fifteen. That was the end of their exchange; it was the man's turn to pick up his rental car.
The girls and I rejoined Ian at the counter, surrounded by our luggage fort. It wasn't until we arrived at our black Dodge Charger that Ian told me what had happened. My eyes welled up with tears--tears of sorrow for this other family who went through what we are going through, and tears of joy for the kindness that had been bestowed upon us. We loaded our fort into the trunk, buckled up our wealth, and headed for Orlando.