On most flights, I take a window seat or aisle seat and bury myself in a good book or my journal. I’ll enjoy my plastic cup of cranapple juice and bag of salted peanuts, then perhaps take a few pictures of the clouds. This time on the connecting flight (to Atlanta first), I sat in the middle. Before I could whip out Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, a middle-aged man wearing a dark-blue suit and carrying a business knapsack approached the seat to my left. Five minutes later, a short woman with curly brown hair and wire-rimmed glasses claimed the seat to my right.
I soon came to discover that the woman was going back home after a business meeting, and the man was a surgeon who was on a way to one. The woman told me she was eager to get home to her three beloved dogs and two cats, and I nodded knowingly. My friend is taking care of my turtles, I told her. Somehow we started talking about our love for animals, and the woman mentioned she had had to give up her own turtles a few years ago while undergoing chemotherapy.
Our conversation turned, and it occured to me how much this woman had been through. Yet, here she was as alive and energetic as ever, living her life with as much love and fervor as anybody. The surgeon, in turn, told me how he had come to develop a passion for medicine and healthcare. I listened, fascinated, to these two strangers who had become my friends in a matter of two hours. By the end of the flight, I hadn’t even unzipped my backpack for Zen. I bid my newfound airplane buddies farewell, and the woman even patted me on the shoulder.
On the final plane to Ohio, I got the aisle seat on the Exit row. Finally – some peace and quiet! Not that I hadn’t enjoyed my conversations with fellow surgeon and cat lady, but the night would be a busy one for me and I needed some rest.
But even as I sat down, I couldn’t help but notice my left-side neighbor. An older man well into his 60s sat, tapping one giant sneaker against the rugged floor, with his head resting on one hand. I greeted him with a “Hi, how are you,” and he shook his head.
“Not good,” the man said. “Been up since 1 o’clock this morning.”
“Oh no,” I said. “Why were you up so late?”
The man told me his brother was in the hospital. He’d had a stroke. My neighbor had gotten the news while on vacation with his wife and grandkids.
“Oh no.” I felt stupid for saying the same thing, but I was taken aback. Out of all the things I could have expected, this was last on the list. “Is he okay?”
The man shook his head.
I didn’t know what to say. ‘Sorry’ seemed infinitesimally too small of a word, and a hug would be inappropriate in this situation. We sat together in what seemed like an uncomfortable silence for half an hour, and I debated whether to say anything else at all. Maybe I should just mind my own business, like usual. But the man just looked so sad.
He was the one to speak first.
“You from Ohio?”
“No, I’m visiting family for my birthday,” I said. “How about you?”
“Yeah. You ever been to Rock and Roll House of Fame?” he asked.
The question surprised me. I said no I hadn’t, but it was on my to-do list. The man said the term rock and roll had originated from Ohio from the very beginning. Alan Freed was the man who did it, he told me with a grin.
This seemed to take his mind off of current troubles, so I decided to keep on with the conversation.
“What’s the best concert you’ve ever been to?” I asked, hoping that wasn’t too random or weird.
“Oh, Elton John and Billy Joel’s tour, hands down,” he said. He began to list all the concerts he had ever been to and the biggest stars of the ’60s – the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, ZZ Top, Elvis Presley. When he talked about music and ‘the old days,’ his eyes seemed to light up as if he were back in the Blossom Music Center. We chatted about famous landmarks in Ohio, rock and roll, and The Osbournes for the remaining of the flight. Twenty minutes turned into a couple of hours, and suddenly I was waving goodbye again at yet another new friend. I wished him and his family good luck, and told him I hoped his brother was all right.
As I walked into the Ohio airport, I spotted a female soldier clad in her camouflage military uniform. She crossed the hallway and approached a very old man–must have been in his nineties–with thinned blonde-white hair and large ear lobes. The soldier hugged the old man and whispered in his ear, thank you for your service. She squeezed his hand, and was gone.
I left the airport smiling.
The winner of the Chapter Critique Giveaway will be announced tomorrow after the blogfest and after I have entered everyone’s points into the random generator! As they say in the movies, STAY TUNED.
P.S. I went from 184 followers to 194 followers in eight days! Y’all ROCK! Thank you so much!