Derek checked his watch for the third time as the plane slowly pulled into the docking area of the giant maze of an airport. Everybody on the flight was restless about the hour delay, but him especially.
His legs bounced anxiously under the large white box he was cradling on his lap as the smooth, yet dull voice of the flight attendant announced over the intercom, “Ladies and gentleman, today’s weather in Atlanta, Georgia is a blissful sixty-five degrees Fahrenheit with a slight overcast….”
The seatbelt light was still on, but the sound of metal buckles slapping against armrests and apprehensive passengers stirring in their seats drowned out the rest of the speech. A few started reaching for the overhead bin doors to retrieve their luggage.
“Folks, please stay in your seats!” She broadcasted more firmly, which was greeted with a few groans. “Mr. Derek Harkin?”
He waved his hand.
“You may now exit the plane.”
Derek unbuckled his seatbelt and slid as quickly down the narrow aisle as he could, a firm grip on the handle of his large, bulky box. He felt the glares of many haughty eyes on his back.
“Everybody wants to get home for Christmas,” hissed one bitter woman loud enough for the surrounding rows to hear, “what makes him so special?”
A few guttural “hmphs” in agreement echoed throughout the cab.
“Probably some pompous celebrity?”
“He wouldn’t be sitting in the economy section if he was a celebrity.”
“Maybe a family member of a celebrity?”
One young girl squinted at the large red words on the box he carried, her blue eyes bulging as she read them. “Oh,” he heard her say before he stepped onto the jetway and started jogging.
His flight from Chapel Hill, North Carolina was delayed, which means the connecting flight to Chicago he had to make had been sitting on the pad, waiting on him for nearly forty minutes. Usually, he would have the solution of simply catching the next flight, but not this time. There was a giant blizzard heading towards Chicago later this evening, and this was the last flight out.
He pushed through the crowd, stopping to glance at a directory flashing an array of flights and gate numbers.
Miami, Florida, Gate F – ON TIME. Houston, Texas, Gate B – ON TIME. Frankfort, Kentucky, Gate M – DEPARTING. Chicago, Illinois, Gate C – DELAYED.
Good. They didn’t leave without him. That just meant he was going to be greeted by many more disgruntled passengers. He picked up the pace, even though he was already out of breath and needed desperately to use the restroom.
“Derek Harkin with St. Francis Hospital!” He yelled as he ran up to Gate C. The gate attendant snapped her head up from her computer monitor and gave him a large, red lipstick smile.
“Mr. Harkin, we are so glad to see you made it safely! Thank you so much for flying American Airlines with us today.”
“And thank you for waiting for me. Hopefully not too many are upset.”
She smiled graciously at him, not confirming nor denying the current state of the passengers.
He strutted quickly down the jetway and was greeted by an older flight attendant, her graying hair pulled firmly back in a bun. Her lips were drawn tight and her forehead was creased. She had a no-nonsense appeal to her, which he liked. Derek assumed she was the one who kept the passengers on the flight from creating a riot over the delay.
“Mr. Harkin, thank you for joining us. Please, make your way to your seat,” she waved a graceful hand down the aisle.
“Finally!” somebody shouted, a few sighs and grunts throughout the plane.
“Settle down, we will be pushing back from the gate shortly,” the no-nonsense attendant yelled as he sat down beside a clearly agitated woman and buckled his seatbelt. Nobody questioned why he was allowed to hold his box on his lap and not on the floor or the overhead bin, they just wanted the plane to be in the sky already.
“Mommy!” whispered the little girl sitting in the window seat, tugging hurriedly on her mother’s cardigan, “What’s an organ?” The “r” in organ was missing when she said it, coming out as ‘o’gan.’
The mother sitting beside me followed her line of sight and tilted her head to read the box. I watched the agitation melt away as she said carefully to her daughter, “Well, Rebecca, organs are what’s inside our bodies. They keep us alive.”
Rebecca crinkled her nose in confusion, “I have a lunchbox inside me?”
“No sweetie,” her mother suppressed a chuckle and Derek smiled, “inside the box is an organ.”
She shrugged, and cast a curious side eye at the box and up at him. He leaned in closely and whispered, “It’s a heart.”
Rebecca’s dark brown eyes went round as saucers, “Is it for the Gwinch? So he won’t steal Chwistmas?!”
This time they both laughed.
“It’s for a little boy,” he answered quietly, “He asked for a new heart for Christmas because his is broken.”
“How? Why did it bweak? Where did that heart come from?”
“I’m so sorry,” the mother said, gently resting the palm of her hand on his arm, “she’s at that age where everything must be questioned.”
“That’s alright. That’s how they learn.” Derek spoke quietly, smiling at Rebecca.
The plane had pulled onto the runway and was now picking up speed, the engines roaring loudly. The little girl pressed her back firmly in her seat, her small hand clutching tightly against her mothers.
“First time flying,” the mother said, pointing at her daughter who started breathing heavily, “she was adamant about having the window seat but she’s afraid of heights.”
“Got it,” he said. He leaned over until Rebecca turned her terror-stricken eyes on him. “One little boy didn’t need his heart anymore, so he is giving it to another little boy who needs it.”
“Were they fwiends? Did they know each other?”
“No, they didn’t.”
“Then why did he give his o’gan away?”
The plane lifted gently off the ground, floating upwards gracefully making his ears pop. The girl slowly turned towards the window.
“Well, the little boy doesn’t need his heart where he went, so he wanted to give it to somebody who does. He gave it to me to make sure this little boy gets it for Christmas. Isn’t that nice?”
“Yeah,” she said, gulping. “What happens to the boys broken o’gan?”
“Well, what do you do when a toy breaks?”
He chuckled again. “But you throw it away, right?”
“Oh. Yeah, I guess.”
“Because he has a new heart. He doesn’t need his old one anymore.”
“Where did the boy go who gave his heart?”
Derek looked up at his mother, her eyes glistening. “Remember your hamster, Mr. Nibbles? How he decided he wanted to sleep forever so he went to Heaven?”
“Yeah!” she said excitedly.
“He went to play with Mr. Nibbles in Heaven!”
“Oh, okay.” She let go of her mother’s hand and dug into her tiny jacket pocket, reaching her skinny arm across her mother to him. “Can you give this to that boy? Can you tell him I said Merry Chwistmas?”
She dropped a nutcracker ornament in his hand before leaning back in her seat, deep in thought.
“That poor boy. His poor mother,” the woman said, pulling a tissue out of her purse and dabbing her eyes.
“It’s hard sometimes,” he said, “seeing one family lose a loved one, but then delivering the miracle to save another.”
“How old is the boy you’re delivering to?”
“Twelve,” he answered.
She gasped, choking back tears. “So sad. I’ll be praying for them all.”
Derek drummed his thumbs lightly against the box, the mothers’ sniffles gently fading away as she kissed her daughters head and hugged her tightly.
“Prepare for landing,” the pilots voice spoke quickly over the intercom. The seatbelt signs dinged, the sound of metal clicks around us.
The no-nonsense flight attendant’s voice buzzed over the intercom. “The forecast in lovely Chicago today is a brisk twenty degrees Fahrenheit. No winds yet, but within a few hours there will be a blizzard blowing across the state of Illinois so please be aware….”
Again, the anxious passengers began standing up and grabbing for their luggage.
“Passengers, the seatbelt light is still on. You are to be sitting in your seat until I tell you we are ready to deplane!”
Most of the crowd obeyed, but a few stubborn passengers remained standing in the aisle, prepared to leave the plane that just parked in the docking station.
“Mr. Harkin, you may now exit the plane.”
The passengers roared, “he’s the one who made this flight late in the first place!”
“He should be the last one off this flight!”
“What’s so great about this guy?”
“HEY! YOU LISTEN!” Rebecca stood up in her seat, her soft, precious voice now blazingly loud across the cab. Everybody stopped and turned towards her. “HE HAS A HEART FOR A BOY WHO NEEDS IT FOR CHWISTMAS BECAUSE HIS IS BWOKEN AND THE BOY WHO GAVE IT TO HIM IS PLAYING WITH MR. NIBBLES IN HEAVEN SO LET HIM AND HIS O’GAN LUNCHBOX GO!”
The stunned passengers sat down slowly in their seats, the few that had been standing in the aisle sheepishly sitting back down.
The mother pulled her daughter back down and squeezed Derek’s arm reassuringly, giving him a smile. “Go give that family their miracle.”
He nodded and pushed his way down the aisle, clutching the box tightly. She started clapping behind him. By the time he pushed his way to the front and made it onto the jetway, the plane had erupted into an applause, the no-nonsense lady waving and the captain patting him on the back.
Derek walked across the lobby of the airport, one hand gripped firmly on the handle of the organ box and the other patting carefully at the wooden nutcracker ornament in his pocket. He smiled, thinking about the two amazing miracles he gets to deliver today from two amazing children.