I stow my bag in the overhead compartment and look down at my seat. It’s an aisle seat, which I don’t mind—window seats are nice for the view out of the plane, but sitting next to the aisle will mean more leg room. Looking over at the woman sitting next to me, I motion towards the window. “Are you cool with the window seat, or would you rather have the aisle?”
“Oh, window,” she responds with a smile. “Gonna get some sleep,” she adds, moving her head against the wall of the plane in an explanatory gesture. She is a small woman of average build, dressed in a dark suit. Dark hair, brown eyes.
Sliding my laptop bag under the seat in front of me, I sit down and buckle in. The plane taxis to the runway, and soon it takes off; it is a Sunday afternoon, cloudy and wet. From the lightning I saw earlier on the way to the airport, I wasn’t sure if my flight would still be leaving, but fortunately there were only minor delays due to problems at our destination, Atlanta.
The plane is at cruising altitude now, and the woman next to me and I start talking—just a little at first, as I don’t want to be rude or keep my seatmate from napping. She practices law in Shreveport and is on her way to a conference in Nashville for a charter school she counsels. I’m on my way back to Maryland from a wedding.
On my way down to the wedding, the plane from Baltimore to Atlanta had in-flight entertainment systems, so I watched half of a Bond-esque actioner called The Man from UNCLE. However, none of the other planes I’d been on since had entertainment systems, so I hadn’t been able to finish the movie. “So,” I say to my new friend after explaining the situation. “I’m hoping they’ll have the same system on my connecting flight so I can finish!”
At this, the woman smiles. “Well, I hope you get to do that!”
We talk some more before reaching a pause in our conversation. I pull out a book I brought and read for a bit, then put in earbuds and listen to music.
I often think about how extraordinary temporary friendships can be. Sitting in an airport waiting for a flight, I’ve met some incredibly fascinating and colorful people. A retired pilot, whose uncle took him flying when he was 19. Sitting in the cockpit, his uncle motioned to him to sit down, and then told him to take off. “Take off?” he said, having never touched the controls of an airplane before. However, he proceeded to throttle the plane up and take off. Once they were in the air, his uncle said, “Taking off is easy. You’ll spend the rest of your life learning to land.”
In a way, interaction with strangers can seem fairly meaningless. After all, it’s the relationships with people I live my life with—friends and family—that are the hard ones. Being kind and chatting with a friendly face that I probably won’t see again is easy compared to the challenges of maintaining long-term relationships with friends and family.
Yet there’s something inspiring and heart-warming about two people’s paths crossing and, just for a moment, getting a window into another person’s life, creating a thread-like connection. The thought that my story or conversation or kindness (or rudeness) can have an impact, however small, on another person’s life, is something really profound to me.
The flight lands, and my newfound lawyer friend and I exit the plane. By this point I’ve learned about both the Napoleonic code of law (the basis for Louisiana’s legal system) and charter schools. “It was nice meeting you,” she says. As we reach the exit and prepare to head to our respective connecting flights, she hands me a business card. “If you ever need anything, just give me a call.” On the card is her contact information and the name of the law firm she works for—it’s a personal injury firm that she runs with her dad. It’s a simple gesture, but one that I appreciate. I stash the card in my wallet, thinking that someday, maybe we’ll meet again.