On my way to pick up groceries for a family-full weekend, I pulled up to a stop light. As is my usual habit, I watched the people around me (I’m a die-hard people-watcher ). In the car next to me was a couple, laughing, obviously happy together in the way that new couples often seem, although neither was young.
They also were signing rapidly. Faces creased in laughter, their fingers were weaving intricate patterns in the air, I couldn’t follow the conversation any more than I could have heard them speaking.
For some reason, this completely normal moment in the life a couple I will never know made me very happy. I liked seeing the signing, the laughter, and the couple in their 40s learning each other. The whole thing seemed romantic, but romance through new eyes. There was a tangible quality to signing that talking lacks — as if talking was a choice, and not simply a habit…
On a recent flight in to Tulsa, I sat beside Dan. Actually, Dan sat by the window in bulkhead. I took the aisle, nursing my knee. Dan was thrilled. He was sitting by the window! “Before I sat in the middle,” he said me. “But he,” (pointing to the taller of two flight stewards), “told me I could sit by the window after we stopped in Phoenix.”
Dan is probably my age. He has a more-salt-than-pepper moustache, and was wearing a neatly tucked-in polo shirt and chinos, w/ obviously new tennies. He looked like any of a number of business casual lawyers . Except that Dan could never be a lawyer — he has the exuberance and understanding of a 6- or 7-year-old. While I would have sat next to him regardless of this ostensible ‘handicap,’ I thought he was probably a businessman when I sat down next to him. I did, however, notice the two flight attendants eyeing me. Later I realised they were concerned for Dan, whose happy lack of timidity meant we spent most of the two-hour trip talking.
He told me about every airport he’d ever been to. (Fayetteville is about his favourite, because he has family there ) And he told me more than once, so I would remember. He told me that Southwest had asked him to choose them next time, so he would try to. “They asked me!” he said w/ round eyes.
Throughout the flight, he looked out the window, noting the clouds and the landscape below, two of my favourite activities . He asked if I thought we were turning (we were). And wasn’t the river beautiful in the sunset (it was amazing…).We discussed the peanuts (He got extra ones! “They like me,” he smiled, gesturing to the two stewards. And he was right ). I complimented him on his new shoes (his mother bought them for him). He told me his sister was picking him up at the other end of the trip (she did).
But mostly I thought about the serendipity of sitting next to Dan. Of how the people in the row next to us were curious about his voice (louder rather than softer). And his vocabulary (not that of the middle-aged man he appeared). I was glad for both our sakes that I sat next to him. I like stories, and Dan had several. And I like children a lot. Dan, moustache neatly trimmed and all, is more child than man.
I was glad, too, when I saw the taller steward walking with him to the arrivals gate, where Dan’s sister met them. Dan was trying not to skip from excitement. I smiled in sympathy, remembering how many times I’ve tried not to show how excited I am.
And then I wondered: who cares? What does it matter if Dan and I show how happy to see you we are? Or how nice it is to get the window? Or how wonderful it is to know the flight attendant likes us (and showed it by giving us more snacks ).
Thanks, Dan. Thanks for the stories. I hope your trip to see your sister was as much fun as you reminded me all of us can have. Thank you, happy couple in the car beside me. Thank you for reminding me how lucky I am to have my wonderful husband. And thank you all three for reminding me that difference is only that. That each of us is nothing like the person sitting next to us. And that’s part of what makes it all so interesting ~