A Detour, Ripe Old Age & The Lessons We Learn: Revisited.

Day 241: Items Purchased: 0, Temptation Radar:0

Tuesday, August 30 2011

Because I think it’s fun to reminisce, would you indulge me as I share an experience I had last year on an airplane to San Francisco.  It touched my heart and was the beginning of a life change for me.

Bags? Check. Phone? Check. 7 pair of shoes? Double check. whew. I’m good. Ready for a trip that, well frankly, I’m not even sure I should take. Nonetheless, I am on my way. After all, the excitement of the fashion show, the anticipated fall jewelry line preview & glitzy soirees is enough to distract any fashion-friendly girl from all rational thinking and good reason. 

I am at the airport an hour before the flight departs. I’m feeling great because I checked in and obtained boarding pass online the night before. All I need is to have my luggage tagged & taken by an attendant. By the time I get to the kiosk it’s 6:55. The attendant says the words “I’m sorry, we cannot take anymore luggage for this flight.” I just stood there. He goes on to say, “Ma’am we stop taking bags 30 minutes prior to the flight. I’m sorry”. “Well, it’s 35 minutes prior”, I answer, assured that he had missed this detail. A head shake later, I’m offering him my solution. “No worries”, I chirped. “I’ll just carry it on.” He looks down at me over his glasses, pitifully, with my apparent oversized carry on, an additional tote, purse and camera. “Your bag is too big and besides you have too many pieces.” Seconds are ticking as I try to convince Dr. Delta that I can, in fact, effectively condense this luggage, sprint olympian style thru security, grab a Starbucks & make this flight in the next 27 minutes. The answer: a resounding NO. The finality of this response was more than I could bear & I broke down. Sobbing, I just stood there anxiety stricken, and unable to process my next move. He looked at a series of other flights, none to arrive in time to make my event. Do I stay or do I go? I knew I shouldn’t have brought so many shoes. sigh.

Clock ticks. I wait. From counter to counter I travel: Continental. United. Waiting. All flights oversold. Finally, I’m at southwest and find myself slapping another ticket purchase on a credit card. Just like that. The whole while, I’m swallowing hard, knot in my stomach wondering what I’m doing? I will go thru Denver, arrive 40 minutes late, but that’s okay. Right? I board the plane and notice the middle seat on front row is vacant. I grab it. Extra leg room and 2 small stature people are convincing enough for me to take this seat. To my right, sits a young computer tech for Intel who has been working all night and is heading back to Orange County. To my left a quite spunky-spry older lady named Helen, who begins to explain to me her entire travel itinerary. She’s headed to Seattle to attend her grandson’s wedding. She looks to me to be in her early 70’s. Helen shares that her husband is deceased. He passed of illness at 91. This was 12 years ago. She still wears her wedding ring. She spoke fondly about him, reminiscing their early days in St. Louis followed by 30 years in Manhattan. If one begins to speak of New York, I’m immediately sucked in. She mentioned that when they first went to the New York Ballet, tickets were $7. At this point I’m thinking, “This is going to be a good trip, after all.” A couple of times throughout the flight, Helen referred to all these things she wants to do but she’s “getting old”. As she’s exiting the plane strong & unassisted, Helen says “By the way, you know I’m 84 years old?” I smiled back replying “You look GREAT!”. I wanted so badly to ask her about the secret to long healthy life. I wanted to ask her if she chased crazy dreams, ran herself ragged and how many mistakes she had made? I wanted to ask her what she would have done 3 hours prior if she’d have been me standing with that attendant? Another flight, I suppose.

Now, I’m in the Denver airport, still feeling undone, but better. Looking to strategize the rest of the trip, I call Delta to see if I can use my return ticket. They oblige me w/out penalty or transfer fee. Thank GOD! They offer me a voucher for full value of my original ticket, allow me to use part of it for return flight, and the remainder I can use for a future trip.I also approach different gates attempting to catch earlier flights into Oakland or San Jose, since I have a layover. No luck. 

Finally, it is time to board the plane to SFO. I get on the plane to find that my preferred seat is taken. However, the second row houses a vacant middle seat. I sandwich myself between another sweet elderly lady, named Lucy and a cute 9-year-old boy. I introduce myself to both and find that I’m extremely taken by the this charming little boy. Coincidentally, his name is “Reed”. We become instant friends. It is his first flight alone & he’s traveling to meet his grandparents, uncle, & cousins in San Francisco. Then, he will travel by car to Las Vegas with his grandma to spend a month of his summer vacation. Reed is energetic, witty and VERY chatty. He shows me the Fire-bender toy he got in his happy meal, introduced me to Trey Atkins “Honky Tonk” song, and showed me pictures of his family & 2 dogs. He shares that he used to live in Las Vegas but had to move to Colorado. Naturally, i ask ” Why?” As soon as i uttered it, I realized I wanted to take it back. Too late. 

“My mom died. One day she woke up very sick and they wouldn’t even let us in the room to see her.” Somehow, I knew in my gut that the story Reed heard and the truth were probably 2 different things. I was overwhelmed with compassion. This happened 3 years ago when he was only 6. He and his older brother were shipped to Colorado where their dad lived and they all began to pick up the pieces. At this point, I feel the tears welling up behind my eyes, but Reed seems just fine. ” So what does your dad do for work?”, I ask. “He works at Target.” “Ah,I’m a big target fan, myself!”. Reed smiles and says “you know those signs they say that read 50% off?” “Yea.” “Well, he hangs those all over the store!” “Cool!” I can see that Reed really is proud of his dad. I told him that I thought his dad had the most important job in the whole store. I share with him that the 50% off signs are critical to the success of my shopping trips. ‘We talk about his interests etc. I begin to realize that his detour in my travel is significant. I asked Reed what he’d like to be when he grows up. We colored. We laughed. I encouraged him. We ordered drinks. I had diet and Reed had regular, except his came with a lid & straw. “How cool are you!, I exclaimed” You got a straw and lid. Lucky.” He picked it up proudly and started sipping away.

All the while, Lucy is watching us smiling. She is so kind. She begins to speak of her daughter and sister that she’s visiting in Santa Rosa. She chimes on about the success of her children, which by her estimation is that they are all married with children; not that they make 6 figures. She tells me she’s 82. “That’s weird, i say. The lady I sat on with the first flight was 84, and much like you” . She comments on how much she likes my shoes. “My shoes are probably the reason I couldn’t get on my flight today,” I giggled. 

The flight continues and as I look outside I can’t help but notice the different perspective I have from above. Mountains look smaller. I can see the towns side by side and it seems easy to navigate. “Big Picture” is so cliché, yet so profound. I realize that I have to view things in a more macro than micro format. In this thought, I look over at Lucy, “What’s the secret?”, I ask. She stares as I continue, “you know, to living long and being healthy?” She quietly answers, “Stay active, keep living and when crazy stuff happens just take it as it comes, cause ya can’t change the world.” In that moment, after all the striving, stressing, etc. I just grinned. I glanced at her & then over to Reed. I realize that I’m absolutely on the right flight.

As we’re exiting the plane, Reed says to me “Hey! Next time you should get a coke!” “Why is that, I chuckle back.” With an expression that showed me he was stunned I didn’t know the answer, he says “Because you get a straw & a lid!”

With that I gave a wink knowing that the day is just as it should be.

This is what I looked like during that trip! I had bangs. Wow.

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