Connecting Flights, Part I: A Travel Story.
Part 1. Read Time: 6 Minutes
When I saw I had a two-hour layover sandwiched by 2 two-hour flights for my recent trip to LA, I seriously couldn’t wait. You may grumble, but I rejoice, because it’s an opportunity for one thing: get stuff done.
I love airport and plane time, especially when I travel by myself because I can just zone out and do the things. Usually the ear buds go on as soon as I choose a seat, mostly because I don’t want to be bothered. I especially don’t want a chatty Cathy ruining my flow. So, whether I’m listening to music or not, I slip the earbuds in.
On my first flight, a woman sat next to me. Earbuds in. She seemed to be interested in her book and sleeping so I knew I’d be safe. In the last 30 minutes of the flight, she pulled out her boarding pass and asked me if she'd make it to her connecting flight. We started chatting causally.
She told me she’d been to St. Louis on vacation and to watch the eclipse.
We hit turbulence. “I hate when that happens.” I don’t know why I said that. It really doesn’t bother me at this point.
“Oh, I’m used to it by now. I’ve flown a lot.” Me too, I nodded.
“But this is the first time by myself,” she continued, fidgeting in her seat a bit. “You know, you never think you’ll be doing things by yourself again.” She seemed to be lost in thought. “But things happen and you do what you have to do.” She smiled through a shrug.
"Are you recently...?" I trailed off. I didn't know how to finish the sentence. What happened to you?
She nodded. A smile, but mixed with resignation.
I immediately felt for her. Divorced? But she seemed pretty positive about it. She was smiling, seemed hopeful.
"Well it's awesome that you don't let those things hold you back. You're out doing the things!" I tried my best to encourage her.
We talked a while more. We agreed that the humidity in the midwest was ridiculous. She mentioned that she doesn’t sleep well, especially away from home. I told her that I was a photographer. We exchanged thoughts on the eclipse.
I figured the conversation was done when she suddenly said, “I’ve never wanted to go home so badly in my life, I could just cry.”
Her face twisted as she fought back tears.
I know that face. I know that feeling. I know.
I didn’t understand what exactly was making her feel such a homesickness. She’d seemed fairly upbeat coming back from her time away.
Get her mind off of it, I thought. Make her think about something else. Something happy? I asked the first thing that came to mind. “So who were you with on your vacation? Did you spend time with any friends or family?”
“Oh, I came with the ex.”
The ex from the recent breakup?
“He went crazy. He left me at a gas station, told me to find my own way home. It was a nightmare.” I could finally read the look in her eyes. It told me she was unraveling.
And I felt my heart break in two. The recent heartache, all of the those things she’d been hinting at, they’d just happened to her.
She’d come to a different state with someone she loved, and she was abandoned, hundreds of miles from home. Now, she’s finding her way back, with a heavy load, to a completely different life. Alone.
Here I am, just wanting to get work done, and here’s a woman sitting next to me, completely broken in a million ways.
She’d flown across the country to see the sun go black, but she didn't expect the light to go out in her own life.
My perspective shifted in that moment.
I am so quick to size people up. I automatically deem them unworthy of my time, less important than the list of things I’ve created for myself to do.
But goodness, people are hurting and broken. They’ve got some stuff. And I think they are aching for connection. To be seen. To be known. To reach out and tell someone, anyone, that they're not okay.
Don't I feel the same? Aren't there days I want to scream to anyone that will just listen: I am in pain and can you just look at it? At me? And still call me good?
We were preparing to exit the plane as I was sharing my sympathy and then there was silence. The tears were silently rolling down her face and I was silently praying for the right words, any words, to say.
I managed to give weak well wishes. It just didn’t feel like enough.
She sat there, not trying to hide the tears, and I wanted to hug this stranger and tell her she is valuable and loved and worthy.
We walked off the plane, in separate directions. But I couldn’t stop thinking. I jotted things down in a notebook. I sat and scribbled as fast as I could. Even if I didn’t find her, I suppose could give it to someone.
I happened to look up and she meandered by, not seeing me, walking noticeably slow, the weight visible. I finished pouring out words as fast as I could and I chased her down.
Would she think this was crazy? What kind of a person hunts down strangers and writes them letters like they know them?
She was startled when I approached her.
I held a folded paper sloppily torn from my journal in my hand. “I saw you walk by and I had to give you this.” I had barely held out the note and her arms were around my neck as she sobbed into my shoulder.
“You are so sweet. Thank you so much.” More tears. “This means everything to me.” She didn't even know what I had for her. She hadn't even looked. And she was crying as she hugged me tightly, thanking me.
I told her that I’d be praying for her, that I was truly believing the best for her.
And that sounds cheap. I wish I’d had the boldness to pray with her right there. I wish I’d said a lot more. I wish I could have told her so many more things.
I wanted to tell you this story not to tell you about something cool I did, but in hopes that it wakes us up, opens our eyes.
I have the tendency to believe that people are generally closed off, that they don’t want to talk or do deep or just be real.
Take me for example— head phones on, computer open, head down.
People are dropping hints … they are opening up little cracks into their hearts, hoping that we have the audacity to bust them wide open.
I could be totally mistaken about that, but I think there’s truth to it. Because I feel that way much of the time. Here’s a bread crumb of truth. Now throw it like a rock at the windows of my soul. I want to be broken open. I want to be spilled out and known.
And when the hearts break, isn’t it our job to help lead them back home? To lift a bit of the load off their backs? To do our best to erase the lies the circumstance will try to tell them, to remind them of their value and their worth? To send them off a little less heavy, with light to guide the way?
Isn't it our responsibility to guide them out of the shadow and tell them that the light still shines and it's burning brightly just for them?
You can find Part 2 here.