Eavesdropping

Last week, the girls and I flew to Minnesota to visit Nick’s family (and to go to the state fair – yeah!). It was the first time in quite a while (maybe ever?) that I’d flown solo with both children, and although Ella and Annie are seasoned fliers, I was a bit nervous about how things would go.

Based on outward appearances, I certainly can understand why other, (usually) childless fliers look warily at my children – or any children – when we travel. I have been both the parent of a sobbing, thrashing little beast and a bystander, watching a toddler melt down and fling Goldfish at the passengers in row 24. Kids and flying can be a disaster, especially when their parents blatantly ignore them or don’t seem to be aware the Little Junior is speaking at a volume generally reserved for sports stadiums. I get it.

(Ranty tangent: That said, flying with disastrous children is no worse than – and often vastly preferable to – hordes of middle schoolers on a band trip, anyone attending a bachelor or bachelorette party [hi, Bridesmaids], the business traveler who has 100 decibel “work” conversations on her cell phone every second that we’re on the ground, the giant in the seat ahead of me who reclines his head into my lap, the passenger next to me who thinks that not one of our 94 minutes together can be filled with silence, the passengers who raise the volume of their conversation so that they can be heard above the safety instructions, the guy whose music is so loud I can hear it through my own headphones, the person who hasn’t bathed in at least a week, the man who did bathe – but in cologne, the person who brought the vat of Chow Mein, the poor lady with the cold who sniffles and clears her throat every 46 seconds, the arm rest hog, and anyone who finds the tiny bottles of liquor “cute” and decides that it’s a good idea to drink four or five or ten. At least crying babies aren’t deliberately being rude. Plus… Benadryl, people.)

Anyhoo, I get that the mere sight of kids can cause other passengers anxiety, perhaps none more so than the frequent fliers who are Important and have Somewhere To Be and don’t want to be held up by anyone who is not an Expert Flier like themselves. Nick, actually, is a frequent flier (although he has empathy for families with kids… okay, probably mixed with some dread…), and so we are usually fortunate enough to use the priority security lane. The look of annoyance and disgust when we join the other “important” travelers in the faster lane – and then proceed to dump our shoes and sweatshirts and computers and Seat Pets and liquids into six plastic bins, ultimately placing a minimum of fourteen items on the conveyor belt – is priceless… But not as priceless as the look of bewilderment and shock as we snag our scanned items back off of the rollers, put them back on our bodies, and load them back into our carry-ons before the guy ahead of us has had time to put his belt back on. We are security line ninjas, people.

One of our flights had seats three abreast, meaning we could all sit together, but the other had only double seats. Despite being ninjas and generally very well behaved on flights, Ella and Annie are hardly perfect, and I was wary of them sitting beside one another rather than beside Nick or me. They, however, were not only not wary; they were psyched.

20130826-121940.jpg
If we give you thumbs up will you leave us alone?

After we all got settled in, I tried to relax and just let them be, and my attention turned to the conversation being held by the passengers in front of me. The woman in the window seat was maybe in her mid-sixties, petite, and white. The gentleman sitting beside her was younger, quite tall, wearing an awesome straw hat, and black. It struck me immediately what – in our current American society – an oddly matched pair they were. Not that it should be odd, or unusual, or uncomfortable – or anything at all – for a middle-aged white lady to be conversing with a younger black man… But, let’s be honest, it often is.

As I eavesdropped on their conversation (truthfully, it was more just listening, ’cause they were chatting quite loudly), I learned that she was returning home to Minnesota for a high school reunion with dear friends. He was from Alabama, headed to Minnesota on business. From what I could hear, they had nothing in common – no obvious shared interests, no shared hometown, no children of the same age, no professed mutual love of baseball or movies or rescuing kittens – but, man, were they enjoying talking with one another! One of them would say something and the other would physically rear back to have enough room for a full-bodied laugh, their joyous sounds rushing into the space above, settling playfully over all of us around them.

Our flight had already been delayed for over two hours due to mechanical delays (asked the girls, “Does anyone ever leave O’Hare on time?”). Now, sitting still longer on the runway, the collective passenger anxious-seat-shifting began. As I admonished Annie for the second time to stop opening and closing her window shade (“But Mommy, at least I’m not kicking the seat!” True, baby. But you’re going to make everyone around us have a seizure), the man in front of me raised his hands to the ceiling, verbally pleading, “Come on already! I just want to get up in the air!”

His newfound buddy laughed, chiming in, “Me, too! Let’s get going already!”

They both paused for a moment; then she added, more quietly, “I like going up, but I hate coming down. Landings scare the daylights out of me. I always pray that it’ll be all right.”

Without missing a beat, her seat mate reached over and put his large black hand gently on top of her small white one. “You go on ahead and pray, but I promise everything will be all right.

It’s okay. I’m here. I got’chu.”

Minutes later, we began to taxi, and the rest of the flight passed uneventfully, just as he’d said.

Would that we all could have that experience, no matter where, no matter why.
Would that we could have someone, anyone, who says – and genuinely means – It’s okay. I’m here. I got’chu.

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