I’ve just boarded a flight to Minneapolis when the flight attendant announces our flying time will be "approximately exactly an hour.” The man seated beside me in 14C laughs at her words loud enough for ten rows of passengers to hear.
“Approximately or exactly, honey?” he scoffs. “You gotta pick one or the other.”
“Kind people are so stupid, aren’t they?”I reply. And then he scoffs at me too.
I seem to always get stuck in the middle seat. I asked the woman at the check-in counter if there is ever anyone who actually chooses the middle.“Never”, she said. Hearing that made me sad in my bones––sad in even my funny bones––but I understood. People don’t like to bump elbows. I’m no different when it comes to being touchy-feely at 30,000 feet, unless of course there’s turbulence, in which case I’ll curl up on the lap of whatever stranger is seated beside me.
I’m fastening my seatbelt when the woman in 14A pulls a book from her purse. She opens to a bookmarked chapter titled: Grieving the Death of a Spouse, and I am ashamed for peeking into the window of her pain without her permission. She’s wearing a red fleece coat, a wedding ring, a hairdo that requires curlers, and is sniffling the way one does when they’ve been crying. I’m not the type to spark up random conversations on planes, but I wish I had something to say that could make her day suck less.
Do I have anything at all to say?
The first thing that comes to mind is Humpback whales. Particularly how they sing the stories of their lives, and the song gets longer the older they get. I read that at the end of their years, the song takes days to sing all the way through. I could tell her I’d like to live in a world where that was the kind of song that went viral, and ask her if she would too?
If whales aren’t her thing, I could tell her the story about my friend who snorted a pussywillow seed up her nose as a kid. When she went in for a check-up a year later, an x-ray found a pussywillow plant growing over the front casing of her skull. A team of surgeons removed it just in time. If the woman beside me doesn’t believe that (as many people don’t until they see my friend’s scar) I could tell her this same friend lives in a strawbale house insulated with old soy milk containers, washes her socks with rainwater and hates how often I’m on airplanes because the jetfuel shoots poison directly into the veins of the most vulnerable part of our atmosphere.
If I told her that, I could also tell her about Trevor Noah interviewing twelve-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg after she travelled to the U.S on a zero emissions boat. Greta’s mom was a famous opera singer until the family made a commitment to stop flying, and when Trevor asked Greta if she sometimes feels bad that her mom could no longer follow her opera dreams, Greta said, “I don’t care, honestly...she had to change [her] career but it wasn’t that big.” I absolutely loved the steadfast look on Greta’s face, undaunted by the audience’s laughter. It would be a great story to share, but probably not the best timing as we’re currently on a plane polluting every inch of air around us.
What does a person say to make a stranger’s day to suck less? I’m looking for approximately exactly two or three hundred ideas. Though I suspect the best idea, at this moment, is to say nothing at all. To give this woman more space than Saturn. To offer the entire armrest to the wedding ring on her hand. To say, “I was hoping to stretch my legs anyway,” when she apologizes for getting up to use the bathroom three times. To throw myself onto the lap of the scoffing, egg-salad-eating mansplainer instead of hers when the turbulence begins.
And to turn on my phone the instant I set foot in the terminal. To call my partner and tell her I love her, over and over until she knows I never won’t. Even after one of us leaves this world, I’ll keep singing our story, like a humpback whale.
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I just became a premium subscriber or yours today after having tried to accomplish the task a few weeks ago on my phone and failing, and this is the first post I have read. I, who once made fun of my friend for saying she had stayed up for "literally p…
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