Leaving on a Jet Plane

by: Elizabeth J. Bradham

I was flying back to Charleston in February, sitting in the airport and trying to figure out if my flight was going to be canceled, when a young man with a service dog sat next to me. He had significant motion impairment and facial scars. When I asked him about his dog, he told me the story of Charlie, short for Charlotte, who came to him almost five years ago.

He explained that his family now talked about their life in “BC” and “AC” terms – “Before Charlie” and “After Charlie”. Before Charlie, he rarely left his room. Now he had a job, and his family was living in a nice suburban development. He explained the other ways in which Charlie had helped him re- establish his life and embrace his “new normal.”

At the end of his story, when I said ,”Wow! it sounds like Charlie saved your life,” he responded, “No ma’am, Charlie did not save my life. She saved my family. Without her, I would probably be living in a one room apartment, drinking myself to death, I would be divorced and estranged from my kids, who would probably be going off the rails, and I would be an unloving son, brother and friend. Charlie helped me embrace my new life and my ‘new normal’ by giving me the courage to do little things, like walking to the mailbox to get the mail after work, and walking her to the corner and back in the evening. Instead of seeing myself as such a train wreck, she helped me see myself again as just another husband and dad home from work, walking the dog around the block, just like all the other dads in the neighborhood. She has become an easy way for me to meet people, just like you asking me about her.”

So here is the question for myself – would I have started a conversation without Charlie there? Perhaps not, for the simple reason that Charlie gave me the confidence to talk to someone I did not know, someone whose body language and demeanor gave me the impression that he might view any conversation as an unwelcome intrusion. Due to Charlie, we had an enjoyable conversation, and I relaxed about getting stuck at the airport.