I've always found that the most serendipitous encounters happen when I really don't have the time, I'm dead tired, and I'm totally stressed out - in other words, when I'm traveling.
You know how it is. You rush to the airport through horrendous traffic, fight for a parking space, and schlup your luggage through crowds of crying children, tottering old men, and ladies in 4-inch heels, juggling two carry-on bags, a floor-length winter coat, and a purse the size of Kansas.
You inch your way along a security line that snakes through two time zones, all the while struggling to hang onto your boarding pass, your ID and your sanity. By the time you've shed your shoes, your belt, your watch, your eyeglasses, your cell phone, and your dignity, you don't care if they send you through a metal detector or a strip search. You just want to get to your gate before the whole weekend is over.
For me, when I'm finally on the plane, have stowed my carry-on overhead, and have my seatbelt fastened, the last thing I need is Chatty Cathy in the next seat. Yet, invariably, that's what I get. And, without exception, I can look back later and see it was meant to be.
Last spring when I flew to Washington, D.C., I was seated next to a 20-something girl from India. Though I was reading a book when Ooma (not her real name) sat down, she introduced herself and immediately started telling me her life story.
She related how her parents had arranged for her to marry an Indian man she had only met once, and how she had moved with him to America knowing that he only wanted a wife to cook and clean. What she didn't know was that she was never to speak to him unless he spoke to her first, and she could never go anywhere without his permission.
After two years of such repression, Ooma simply left him. She had no place to live, no money, no job skills, and could barely speak English. But she found a place in a shelter, filed for divorce, enrolled in junior college, and in two years, had her associate's degree, her own apartment, a driver's license, a cell phone and a job.
What she didn't have was a family. Ooma was desperately lonely. So that day, for two hours, I became the mother she needed. I listened, praised her accomplishments, encouraged her dreams, and left her my name, my phone number, my e-mail and a big hug.
This past holiday weekend we flew to Alabama for Thanksgiving. Our return flight left at 6:35 am. At that hour people should be sleepy and self absorbed. I was, but not so the man next to me.
Mr. Causey immediately introduced himself and told me he was headed to Orlando for a free Disney cruise, compliments of The Make-A-Wish Foundation. He explained how his 13-year-old daughter, Courtney, seated just across the aisle with her mother and sister, has an inoperable brain stem tumor that could burst and end her life at any moment.
I listened and marveled as this proud but hurting father related how they discovered the tumor and how Courtney manages her disease, plus juvenile diabetes, with amazing strength and determination. Knowing she could die anytime, Courtney has taken up horseback riding, even winning medals in dressage competition.
By the time our plane landed, I felt like the luckiest parent alive. I wished Mr. Causey a happy cruise, promised to pray for Courtney, and immediately dialed my healthy children to tell them how much I Iove them.
Got a comment? Share it at Minor Musings on Facebook.