An Unlikely Refuge on an Important Journey

Thank you to the attendant in the women’s bathroom in Concourse A of the Atlanta International Airport. On a recent cross-country trip to surprise my sister at her retirement from 30 years of college teaching I was lucky to be one of many nurtured by the attendant’s generous spirit.

Moving from my arrival gate to the departure gate of the next leg of my long flight, I tucked into the bathroom. There was a line out the entry way—another signal to this travel weary soul that the world of travel is big and impersonal. As I inched forward in the line, I began hearing the same steady, cheerful voice.

“How are you doing today? Long flight? Head right over there, Honey!”

When it was my turn, the gray-haired attendant in her red uniform gave me my own, warm, focused greeting.

“Welcome, young lady! Been on the road long?”

I barely had time to respond before she gestured to the next empty stall.

What I noticed is that the women inside the bathroom were not impatient. Once we realized the orderliness of things, we all calmly waited our turn. And we all seemed to pick up on her thoughtfulness.  When I headed to a sink to wash my hands, a woman stepped aside to let me in. I was probably in that bathroom a total of five minutes, but when I emerged back into the sea of moving humanity that seldom looked at one another, I had been somehow reinvigorated.

Settling at my gate to eat breakfast before the next leg of the journey, I kept thinking about that attendant and how carefully she was doing her job. She made such an impression on me that I decided to pay a return visit to that bathroom right before my next flight departed.

There she was, two-and-a-half hours since my first visit, still standing by the entry to the bathroom, still sharing her positive spirit. Still sometimes going in and wiping down a stall before directing someone in. When I was sitting in a stall in this unlikely refuge for the second time, I thought, “I want to figure out some form of acknowledgement to thank her. I will have about three seconds for the transaction.” I grabbed a five dollar bill out of my wallet, waited at the sink for a pause in her speaking, then walked out handing her the $5 bill and said, “Thank you. This is the cleanest public restroom I have ever been in.”

“Bless your heart, honey,” she said.

Conclusion of the Important Journey

Twenty minutes later I was boarding my Delta flight to the Asheville, NC airport and the unfolding of a several day rendezvous and celebration that my youngest sister and I will forever remember. She was honored with student and faculty accolades and many gifts for outstanding service to Brevard College.

Ann greeting Margaret for the first time as they walk into the college Humanities Dinner

As the author of The Wild East, a Biography of the Great Smoky Mountains, Margaret is an accomplished writer, an active gardener who has created a Monarch Waystation, a devoted mother, and a person known for her community activity and commitment to lifelong learning. She is an all-around remarkable human being whom I have cherished since the day she was born.

Margaret and Ann relaxing together
photo by Frank Parsons

My sister and the attendant live in very different worlds. One gave me five minutes of kindness— a boost on my long journey. The other has given me a lifetime of joy, memories, and connections.

Margaret and Ann hiking in the Pisgah National Forest
photo by Frank Parsons

38 replies
  1. Rose Hood
    Rose Hood says:

    Beautiful, refreshing stories to treasure….and wonderful tribute to your sister! You two certainly have a great deal in common and it’s all outstanding! Think of you often with joy & gratitude!

    Reply
  2. Karl Olsen
    Karl Olsen says:

    So many gifts of grace and joy along this road we call life. How wonderful that you were present to this one, and able to receive and respond. Thank you, Ann.

    Reply
    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      Yes, Karl, I think a big part of our journey is to notice the “many gifts of grace and joy along this road we call life”—being neither too busy nor too grumpy to take them in!

      Reply
  3. Gretchen Staebler
    Gretchen Staebler says:

    What a heartwarming story, Ann. There are good people out there, taking pride in their work, whatever it is. I’m so glad you got to be with Margaret.

    Reply
    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      Yes, my friend, there ARE good people out their taking pride in their work—many of them. That’s my story and I am sticking with it! Ann

      Reply
    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      Thank you, Maryann! I often tell people I got my start as a naturalist by taking her into the wilds. At age 13 I put her on the back of my bike (she was three)—one foot in each of the wire baskets, butt on the fender, she hanging on to me—and off we went to the nearby creek to poke around for “crabbies and fishies”. My career as a naturalist was launched! Not quite sure our careful mother knew about this trip.

      Reply
  4. Brenda Peddigrew
    Brenda Peddigrew says:

    Oh Anne! I smiled all the way through and knew there would be a happy ending! So glad for you…

    Reply
  5. Fay Geddes
    Fay Geddes says:

    Thank you for your positive narative! Sadly, I lost my only sister nearly a year ago. The void in everyone’s life is significant! I always tell my friends, one never “gets over” those losses, the best we can do is learn to live with them and try to be a “tribute” to their memory.

    Bless you and Christina . . . I have many fond memories of you both, and how you guided me through some of my darkest times!

    Reply
    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      Dear Fay, So sorry for the loss of your sister. We are of an age that we know intimately that we cannot take the lives of those precious to us for granted. Precisely why I chose to surprise my sister at this important rite of passage time in her life. Ann

      Reply
  6. Jana Jopson
    Jana Jopson says:

    Two sweet stories of sisterhood. My heart feels kissed with love. Needed that. Appreciation and happiness to you!

    Reply
  7. MK Sandford
    MK Sandford says:

    Hi Ann, These two stories have so much grace and beauty; they gave me a sweet time-out from the seemingly endless paperwork of my life right now. Both your stories show some ways our lives can be filled with the loving power of Sisterhood. What a gift your bathroom attendant gave the weary travelers who walked through those crowded doors. The phrase that immediately came to mind was, “love the folks in front of you,” one Christina (Baldwin) uses in her daily spiritual practice that she outlines in her book, The Seven Whispers. It was, and continues to be a life-changing book for me. And I celebrated with you as you reached Asheville and your youngest sister, Margaret. Precious memories filled me as I recalled my very first Circle Practicum that Eileen and I attended, taught by you and Christina at the Kanuga Retreat Center, near Asheville, where we were happy to meet your sister Margaret who was also participating. That practicum will always stand out in my mind as I immersed myself in Circle for the first time and saw with incredible clarity the loving power of Sisterhood. Margaret shared with all of us her deep knowledge of that region of North Carolina, guiding us on several nature walks. You speak of her dedication to life long learning, and that was so apparent in her enthusiastic spirit, creativity, and sense of humor. I can still remember a poem she wrote by weaving together lines spoken by all of us throughout the week. What a joy it was to catch up by reading how she was celebrated by colleagues and students recently at Brevard. Many thanks to you, Annie, for sharing the beauty of Sisterhood with us all!

    Reply
    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      Oh, MK, thank you for taking the time to craft such a beautiful response at this time of grieving over the recent loss of Eileen. And thank you especially for helping me remember some of the beautiful participation of Margaret in that training at Kanuga. Love, Ann

      Reply
    • Thanks, MK, for that lovely memory. It was a special group, and I was thrilled to be a part of it
      Thanks, MK, for that lovely memory. It was a special group, and I was thrilled to be a part of it says:

      Thanks, Ann, for that sweet tribute…and for making the journey. You helped transform what could have felt like the end of another exhausting school year into a holiday.

      Reply
      • Ann Linnea
        Ann Linnea says:

        Appreciate hearing from you, Margaret! And, yes, MK’s memory is truly impressive around details! Love,
        Ann

        Reply
  8. Virginia Shapiro
    Virginia Shapiro says:

    Oh thank you, Ann. I love your stories and find inspiration in each and every one. I loved reading about the bathroom attendant and your youngest sister, and your beautiful responses to both of them. I treasure my two older sisters as you treasure your younger sister. So good that you could be present at her ceremony.
    Thank you for helping me be a kinder and more appreciative presence in the world!

    Reply
    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      Hello Virginia! Yes, we are so lucky to have sisters. I am lucky enough to have three and treasure each of them for the unique human beings they are. Blessings, Ann

      Reply
  9. Jeanne Petrick
    Jeanne Petrick says:

    Aww, Ann. What a heartfelt story of care from strangers as well as close family siblings.
    Margaret must have felt so loved by her older sister’s presence to help support and mark a very important time in her life – support I can imagine she could always depend on from a very young age. What joy for another of her personal life journeys completed and well celebrated, with you as witness. And finally, what a gift to share the joy of hiking and exploring in the great outdoors together. Life surely can be so good. These moments are priceless and so life affirming. Thank you so much for sharing this story! xxx

    Reply
    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      Yes, Margaret and I have been close friends for all of our lives, despite living so far apart. She fell in love with the Wild East and I fell in love with the wild west. The beauty of that is we have many adventures to share! Ann

      Reply
  10. Sharon Faulds
    Sharon Faulds says:

    Dear Ann, thank you for the story of how a simple act of kindness can lift one’s spirit. A clean bathroom in an airport is a gift. Your baby sister has an amazing mentor to share her passions with. Thank you as always for sharing your stories. Love Sharon

    Reply
    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      Hello Sharon! Thanks for writing. Actually, at this age Margaret and I are mentors to one another. And that is the very best! Ann

      Reply
  11. Anne Stine
    Anne Stine says:

    As always you remind us that our lives present us with endless opportunities to exchange kindnesses with the world around us. Your open and present heart notices so much. Gratitude, dear Ann… love. Anne

    Reply
  12. Dianne Feltham
    Dianne Feltham says:

    Excellent tie-in to travel and home connections. Hope there were others like you thanking her for making a sometimes miserable experience a very positive and unforgettable one. Well done ;).

    Reply
    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      Appreciate the acknowledgement of the challenges of travel. It’s exciting to get where we are going and travel these days has more than its share of challenges. Ann

      Reply
  13. Julie Glover
    Julie Glover says:

    Hi Annie, in keeping with Christina’s admonition to love the ones in front of you, I just gotta send you some love back in response to this beautiful posting. (I wish you were “in front of me” more often, but I feel you so much through your writing). How lucky you are to have 3 sisters, and how graced you are by your wonderful ability to write. THANK YOU!
    Love you, woman! Warm hugs… ❤️

    Reply
    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      Hello Julie! Sometimes it seems like a long ways between the Maxwelton Valley and Freeland. We’ve got to have more sitings in person!
      Appreciate your kind comments. Annie

      Reply

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