Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Crossing Paths: An Unexpected Friendship

Picture it:
In March 2013 I was a single traveling parent boarding a plane with a 14-month-old and a two-year-old. I had a cast on my left hand because I had broken it two months previously while trying to flip an age-old mattress. I decided to travel despite the broken hand, believing the best in people as I do, knowing that virtual strangers would help me as the three of us made our way from Oklahoma to Orlando to Massachusetts. They did.

I entered the plane with George in my left arm, our bag on my right shoulder, and Silas walking in front of us. Every parent that has flown with a small child knows the feeling of stepping on to a plane and making that right turn to face all of the people who could be your potential seatmates. Many of them are looking at you. Some of them are smiling at your children, while some look at you and then quickly break eye contact, hoping you won't sit next to them (if you're flying Southwest and choose your own seat, as I always do). It's always an uneasy feeling for me, choosing the part of the plane that works best for us and hoping that nearby passengers are pleasant. On the day in March 2013 when I made that right turn to face the plane, I began the uncertain walk, scanning my eyes to see my options. That day on a plane, more than the countless other days I had taken my children on planes, was different because there was a good chance that I was going to have to ask for brief help at some point.

These people are not Su.

Enter Su. A friendly-looking passenger sitting on the left side of the plane, Su made eye contact with me and smiled broadly. "Yoohoo!" She called to me, motioning with her hands. "Come sit here!" pointing to the empty seats beside her.

Ummm.... what?

My first thought was, "Wow, jackpot! This lady is super friendly!" My second thought was, "She's so nice that I should walk on by and not subject her to our burden. She of all people on this plane doesn't deserve it!" Fortunately, common sense won out and I nabbed the two seats beside her, Silas by the window and me in the middle holding George. Su quickly reassured me that she loves children, thought my children seemed lovely, and had a young grandson of her own. An educator who is now retired and works part-time as a self-employed baker, Su was the picture of everything that is good in this world. She immediately asked me how she could help me. She spoke to my children, entertained George with baby games, knew exactly how to speak to Silas to spark his interests, and did so with the thickest and most charming of New England accents. Su is a frequent flyer between New Hampshire and Florida, but despite so was nervous about flying, if I remember correctly.

Throughout the next three hours, I had the most delightful conversation with a fellow airplane passenger that can possibly be had. We talked of our families, our lives, our jobs, our fears, and our losses. She spoke lovingly toward my children and laughed with delight about stories of them, two traits in a person that any mother finds wonderful. Su was, simply put, the be-all end-all of seatmates. Just before we departed the plane, Su helped me gather my things and handed me her bakery business card, which I still have in my wallet.
See? I really do!
Not long after that flight, Su and I became Facebook friends, and we remain involved in each other's lives. This kind, kind woman claims my children as her "Oklahoma grandsons," and she has sent boxes of gifts for birthdays, Christmas, and Easter. She has offered virtual hugs and support through personal, heartbreaking losses since that time. She has been a true friend. And to think--we met on an airplane! The most unlikely of stories, a friendship seed that was sprung from the kind of place that you might only see in Hollywood--and yet, it's as real as any friendship I have. This April when we make our sojourn out to New England to visit Sommer and Co., we will also be making a detour to western New Hampshire to see Su and her stomping grounds.

Friends, if you're on the verge of giving up on people, don't. Keep yourselves open to possibilities, because you sometimes never know who you're sitting next to. We've all taken turns into doors we thought nothing of, only to bump into someone who would go on to change our lives. Don't forget that this can happen anytime, and be ready to capitalize on it when it does, even if it means stepping out of your comfort zone. Goodness is everywhere, especially when you look for it in earnest and are willing to take risks. I have to admit that every time I step on to an airplane, I immediately scan for Su and am always disappointed to not see her, even though I know she won't be there. But, the fact that she was ever there in the first place is testament to the possibility of it happening again somewhere, someday.

**Su is a private person and I'm kind of amazed that she even agreed to this post in the first place. I didn't want to press it by asking for permission to post a picture. You'll have to just use your creative imaginations.**

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