Friday, May 13, 2016

There is no vacuum

I'm traveling a great deal for work these days; I'm on an airplane and sleeping in hotels several times every month. There was a woman next to me on my flight to Chicago this afternoon. This isn't unusual, I know, in this era of oversold flights. I had been hoping for an empty seat, but there she was so we both had to make do.

We both settled in as well as we could, our ample hips brushing against each other. I held my arms in tight as did she, we were polite air travelers. I put on my headphones, noise canceling on, and listened to my podcast while I played a game in my tablet. I did my best to create my own little bubble around me, a place where there was no one else and the flight could pass as quickly as possible. There were at least 75 people on that plane, and we all pretended we were in some kind of vacuum, where the other 74 didn't exist except when the flight attendants came by to offer us water or coffee.

I thought she was doing the same thing I was, pretending no one else was there. She leafed through a magazine. She settled in to doze.

About midway through I realized she wasn't hugging her jacket as she rested, she was crying. It's an awkward thing, having a stranger cry next to you, but I have been so blessed by kind strangers when I was the one crying, I couldn't help but want to help. I waited until she was pulled together a bit, then I took off my headphones and asked if she was okay. She couldn't meet my eyes but said, in a voice so quiet I could barely hear her over the airplane white noise, "I'm going home to bury my mother. She died yesterday. I thought I had more time."

She spoke with her mother yesterday morning, a few hours before she died, and told her that she loved her. Her mom had been in the hospital a few weeks ago but they sent her home, saying everything was fine. They were wrong.

Her mom's name was Ruby and she lived in the town where she raised her children.

I asked if there would be anyone there who loved her, someone she could lean on. Her daughter, Laura Rachel, was meeting her there, she said. "I call her Rache, but I love the name Laura."

We talked on and off for the rest of the flight. I am so glad I reached through that crowded vacuum to ask her if she was okay. I doubt if she will remember me in a month, but that's fine. Sometimes all we need is someone to be with us in that moment. Sometimes all we need is to be the on who is present.

Her name is Judy. She is going home to bury her mother and she needed to know she wasn't alone.
(c)2016 Laura S. Packer
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  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Beautiful! So well written! This post speaks so freshly of our habits of isolation - and it points to the possibilities of breaking them.

    I feel honored to have read this!


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