An airport worker was inspecting the fans of the turbo-prop plane I was about to board at the Sacramento airport. I had a nervous feeling, looking at the size of the plane and the flimsy staircase leading me inside that asparagus shaped aircraft. I climbed aboard while stepping inside it with ever loosing confidence. There were about 16 seats and I got into mine – 2A by the window. A middle aged woman in blue jeans, a red sweater and auburn hair boarded the aircraft and settled in 2B next to me. We exchanged the usual pleasantries while the only cabin attendant did her bit on oxygen masks, exits and floatation devices in case of a water landing. She announced that it will be a short flight with a total flying time of 20 minutes. I planned to take a quick nap before we landed in SFO. Planned to have some dinner at the SFO airport and continue working for a little bit on the flight back to Washington DC from there. I was about to close my eyes when I overheard the lady next to me talk to the attendant about the ring she was wearing.
Lady – “I know that symbol on your ring, I have a tattoo on my ankle with the same symbol.”
Attendant (who by now had revealed her name to be Alexis) – “Ohh really….can i see?“
Me (in my head) – “There goes my 20 minute nap!! Now I have to listen to this tattoo crap…..come on lady bring it on“
So the lady goes – “Sure” and with tremendous zeal unzips a boot from her left leg and removes her sock. Alexis goes – “Awww…it’s so cute“. Me – “Ok, now that the tattoos are out in the open, the conversation will end.” Nope, they had other intentions:
Lady – “My three daughters also have the same tattoo, but the color of the heart in their tattoos is different than mine“
Alexis – “Ohh, that’s cuter, what colors did they get“
And then the lady went on a description of the colors and why a certain color and the names of the daughters and on and on and on. I was seriously craving for a water landing at that time and was looking out the window to beckon a flock of wild geese to play with the propellor fans. No such luck, all I saw was the lights of the bay area. I resigned to my fate and took a deep breath. Alexis had to now attend to the landing procedures and the lady stopped talking. I was hoping she wouldn’t turn to me and well we all now how hopes are shattered etc.
Lady – “So do you live in San Francisco?”
Me – “No, Washington DC“
Lady – “Ohh, what brings you to Sacramento?“
Me – “Work“
Lady – “What kind of work?“
Me – “We help State Governments do their jobs better“
Lady – “Ohh Yeah! they do need a lot of help…what a mess the CA budget is in!“
Me – Just an understanding vague smile.
We were now about to land and I was ready to leap out of the plane. We landed, I heard the lady in 2B say “have a good flight“, without looking back I muttered “You too!“, deboarded with tremendous alacrity and sprinted towards the first open walkway I saw. I had about an hour to kill, so grabbed a soup from the San Francisco Soup company, enjoyed it in perfect solitude in a crowded food court. As I was approaching the gate for my connecting flight, I saw the lady in 2B sitting on a chair right outside my gate and my heart sank to my tattooless ankles. I was hoping she doesn’t see me, but you know the drill with hopes. So she saw me and smiled at me. I smiled back and naturally walked towards her – “Hey…you again! So you are also on the same flight to DC?” I was impatiently waiting for a response. Lady – “No my flight’s not in another 2 hours, from the same gate though. I am going to Grand Rapids, Michigan“. I must say, I was relieved, I felt like hugging every stranger there. With this light headed feeling, I asked the lady with a wide grin on my face- “So Grand Rapids, visiting family is it? Not a good time to leave sunny California for a cold wintry Michigan“.
Lady – “Yeah, you can say that, my only family there was my mother, she died today. Going there to arrange for her funeral and take care of other things. Her second husband and her step sons have pretty much abandoned her since the cancer took hold of her.” It was like I was slammed on the ground from a thousand feet. There, right there, I was put in my place. I hugged the lady “So sorry for your loss, have a safe flight and may she rest in peace“. The lady smiled – “Thank you and I know she is peaceful, she is with the only man who really truly loved her and cared for her – my dad“.
All along my flight back I kept thinking, I used to be a compassionate and a completely non-judgmental person. Was it the stress of the last few weeks that had made me so callous? Whatever it was, note to self: Be more compassionate, non-judgmental and kind to all, no matter what my mental/physical condition.