You never know who you’re going to be seated beside on an airplane, especially when traveling alone. I’ve met all types of interesting sorts, but once in a while, there is someone who really stands out in your mind, someone who seems placed there for a reason. Over two years have passed since I met Claudia but it seems fitting that I share her story now.
April 2013 – I am unsettled. I’m floating thousands of feet up in the air on a plane, not only lifted off the ground but torn somewhere between east and west, between home and the wild, untamed wonder of my dreams. This trip has been different from other vacations in that it has stirred up so much of dreams and desires and made me re-evaluate everything. I’m somewhere in the middle, suspended, waiting, wondering. Maybe that’s why it’s hard to write, hard to know just what it is I want to communicate.
It’s a bright, clear day for flying, and we go soaring in and out of the cumulous, billowy clouds. I have to admit I love the feeling as the plane lifts off the ground, the engine roaring and my stomach leaping. I make the sign of the cross and my heart beats fast, like a dozen butterflies beating their wings rapidly as we lift off the ground for adventure. Out of my window, I see wide, stretching mountain ranges in Nevada. Unlike snowcapped Mt. Rainier I had just beheld in Washington, these mountains are rugged, craggy, and painted in layers of deep brown with orange and gold, sandy stripes.
But as I write this, the reality of descending back into the normality of life in my Midwestern Wisconsin town is confronting me. At 5:25 p.m. Central Standard Time to be exact, these wheels will hit the ground back home and the plane will vibrate as it comes to a sudden halt. I don’t know where I shall go then, for this trip has sparked a longing for new beginnings.
The passenger next to me has long wavy hair, equal parts silver and gold, and wise, twinkling eyes that make her look like she is frequently laughing even though she tells me, she’s a widow.
She opens her heart to tell me about herself and her house in the hills, somewhere off the coast of Washington. No surprise she was a florist in her younger days (which brought back to my mind the large tulip fields I’d just seen in Skagit Valley), and now she works to care for the developmentally disabled and enrich their lives by taking them to the opera in Seattle and doing fun activities with them. Looking at her, I think, How beautiful! I want to be that kind of woman when I grow old. And already, I sense a kindred spirit, one who has risen through grief and loss with hope and passion and purpose.
She is thrilled to hear I work as a freelance writer. Divulging some of my hopes and the possibilities before me, she says she has no doubt I will do well.
“Most importantly, you have a passion for it,” she says. “It is in your heart. I can see it in your eyes.”
Moments before this woman was a perfect stranger but here she was believing in me and having me believe that I would be back here in the west one day, pursuing my dreams.
When she gets up to leave, I ask her what her name is. Claudia. And tell her mine. This exchange before we part cements her personality deep into my mind, and as she turns to walk down the aisle and off the plane, she says, “Have a wonderful life, hon.”
That’s when I realize deep down why I love flying.
We may never meet again, the folks who have shared passenger seats with me while suspended in the air. But for a moment, there we are, fellow pilgrims, bumped and jostled together from different walks of life, every one of us on the same epic, upward journey.