It is true what they say about people who come and go in our lives. It is all for some reason, whether we are aware of it at that very time, or realize it later on. The only thing that matters is that we recognize and remember the impact they had, whether for a transitory moment, or for months and years.
new york city
There are many such experiences when it comes to traveling. You meet people in all sorts of places: on your tour, in the hostel, in a club or restaurant. But an oft overlooked place is the airport.
You see, just like the thousands of people that arrive and depart through the airport terminals every second, minute and hour of the day, we never think in the moment that we could connect with someone because we are so focused on the destination, instead of living in our current location.
The people around you at the gate, in front or behind you in the boarding line or beside you in your row on the plane are merely just another ticket, passenger, and fellow traveler. They’re never nothing more.
In my opinion, they’re an unheard story and a missed connection.
So it was interesting when my eyes caught hers. She was just another lady sitting across from me at the terminal in the LaGuardia Airport in New York City. But for some reason, I felt an undeniable sense of comfort by her presence.
Maybe it was the way she sat, relaxed and comfortable despite the thunder rumbling and pouring rain. A storm had built up throughout the day, and the dark, grey clouds crept over the Big Apple.
Delays had caused a crowd to gather around the gate as people were frantically trying to squeeze onto our flight at the last minute. Pleas were shooting out of the mouths of men in suits and women holding children, like the lightning flashes erupting in the nearby distance. Anxiety had already consumed my own mind and I tried many methods to calm my nerves.
I sat there minding my own business, reading a book that I have since forgot, but I remember peering over the words at the lady. Maybe it was the way her loose, slightly-curled blonde hair fell in a mess upon her shoulders, which were covered by a forest-green button-up that she folded up to her elbows.
Perhaps, it was the way her bags and luggage laid strewn wildly about her sandaled feet, or how she picked at the organic sandwich she held in her lap, letting the small bites reach the lips of her bare, but naturally beautiful face.
At one point her eyes found mine, before I abruptly glanced away for such a sudden realization had hit me without warning. In that fleeting moment I saw myself in the solitary lady.
Every characteristic about her demeanor foreshadowed what I knew would be me in some years to come. I couldn’t help but smile, and I assume she took notice for she soon approached me and asked if I could watch her belongings whilst she went to purchase a bit of candy for the flight. I nodded and watched her stroll away.
Upon her return I asked if she could do me the favor of watching my backpack as I went to the bathroom one last time before boarding, and with a gentle, warm smile, she said she would.
Besides a few more words of exchange, nothing else passed between us. My own panic grew like the crowd around the gate. I recall wondering why our flight had not been canceled or delayed like those before and after ours, but I watched the lady grab her bags and walk onto the plane along with the stream of rain that did not look like it was going to let up anytime soon.
As I walked down the aisle, I saw her sitting in a window seat. Despite the shadow cast over her face, the overhead light was illuminating her blonde, curly hair and I noticed the empty seats beside hers and let out a sigh of relief.
Again, I had felt her comfort drawing me toward her. After placing my backpack under the seat in front of me, I buckled into my seat and pulled out my book with shaky hands. The rain was still falling as I snuck a few peeks out the window over the plane’s wing.
Within minutes the airplane was backing out of the gate and I could feel the wheel’s bumping along the ramp. My head was back, my eyes were tightly closed as a prayer muttered itself in my head while the engines began to roar and launch the plane down the runway.
As soon as the wheels left the ground, the plane began to roll from side-to-side and rumble like the thunder, which I took as a forewarning to this very moment. I could feel the plane’s acceleration and see the clouds pass over the wing with every flash of the wing’s light.
Not too long after take-off the pilot came over the intercom to ask the flight attendants to remain in their seats with their belts tightly fastened. Fear immediately drained all color from my face, and my hands were literally causing indentations in the armrests that I was gripping.
In seat C, where she sat, she quickly took notice and began to ask me questions. “What book are you reading?” I mumbled the title. After a few follow-up questions, she knew better. She closed the window and leaned over to tell me her story in an effort to distract me.
Her voice was calm and soothing. She lived in Chicago, which is where we were headed and apparently owned a company — flowers, if I recall correctly — and that meant she had to fly back-and-forth to New York quite often. This most recent trip was for a wedding, which was ironically bittersweet because she next told me that she was divorced and was hoping that she would see her son that night.
When she mentioned this I knew we would make it. There was no way the plane would crash before this super sweet lady got the chance to see her son. Eventually the airplane reached an elevation that had us gliding just above the clouds.
The flight attendants were allowed to serve drinks, but we had to keep out safety belts securely fastened just to be cautious. My breathing subdued, and my heart slowed down from its marathon pace.
She had turned her heard toward the window and gracefully dozed off, wrapped in the arms of her beige jacket. I closed my eyes but never fully faded away. The occasional bump kept me trapped in the in-between stage of alertness.
When I next opened them all I saw was the big, bushy blonde hair and the face of a lady I assumed was dreaming of her boy. Even in sleep, she seemed at peace, like she was at home in her own bed, waiting for the sun to rise so she could start a new day with her big smile. I let my eyes close once more so that I could find my own inner peace.
As the plane landed, it startled her awake. We didn’t say much else and I regret not wishing her farewell as she crossed in front of me to exit the plane, but I don’t think it was necessary.
What she and I shared in those few hours was a connection on an emotional level that supersedes the need for words. Maybe my presences as someone of a young age, like that of her son, provided a comfort to her. Maybe I provided an ear to hear her story that she just wished to share.
Honestly, I think she knew how much I needed her, and in her selfless nature, she was there for me. I never got her name, but the lady in Seat C will never be forgotten.
Bio: Allison Carlton is The Traveling Bard. She describes herself as “a word warrior who is pursuing a search, a mission, an adventure, a quest, a voyage, a journey -- anything that will get the dirt of vast lands caked to the bottom of my shoes.”
Carlton is an Arizona native and a journalism graduate of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. She is the assistant editor at True West magazine. Her life as a travel writer exists during weekends when she’s exploring “this wonderful state of Arizona.” She gives a shout-out to her friends because “I would not have any stories or videos to share with you if it were not for my friends -- most of whom you can spot in my videos and pictures.”
Carlton chooses her destinations and accepts no free lodging or other gifts in connection with the blog.