I sat between strangers, the last leg of our flight. The woman in the window seat was younger than me, perhaps forty; the man on the aisle was nearer my age. It was a longish flight, well over three hours, from Orlando to Minneapolis-St. Paul. And I was in route from New York City. The sort of route you take when you’re flying on the cheap and using points, and it’s a holiday weekend. And my husband scored an exit seat.
Our flight was moving west with the sun, the scarlet horizon lingering impossibly long. I could see the sunset over her shoulder. My window companion took picture after picture, saved on her phone. But I could tell she’d rather not view it alone. “It’s amazing.” I broke our silence after close to an hour. She reciprocated eagerly, confirming my suspicion. “I think it’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen!” And I never did return to the book I’d been reading.
She reminded me of my daughter-in-law, only a dozen years older. And a little rougher from a harder life. I can still see her face, unmasked for a brief time while she enjoyed a snack. That night, back home, she remained in my dreams, and the next two mornings she was there, too, in my prayers. But I never did learn her name.
Two and a half long hours we swapped stories, shared iPhone photos. She was divorced, estranged from a son. Hard of hearing from Meniere's disease. Said she struggled with OCD. She’d been a medical tech, before her hearing went, and she likes to build things. Dreams of owning a grand piano. And learning to play it. All this shared at 30,000 feet.
And she shared this, too. A sand-dollar she’d found on a beach at Sanibel Island. A gift for me. But for whatever reason I didn’t take it. Why didn’t I take it? I’m regretting it, still.
She has a little dog, a Yorkie-something. Like family, she said, and she showed me pictures. So many pictures, saved in a file, and when I tried to find my own photo of Maple, she made a comment, matter-of-fact, about how I could organize my folders.
At this point, the guy on the aisle chimed in, too. Dogs, apparently, are a universal connector. Also grandkids. He showed us both, and told us about his daughter and her family, back in New York.
And then. Long last, we were back on the ground, untangling ourselves from close quarters and seatbelts and the carry-ons we’d stowed overhead and under feet. All at once, it became awkward. That moment when you realize you’ve been baring your soul to a total stranger, and you’ll likely never see each other again. Well then. Safe travels. What else is there to say?
I did see her again. One more time, at baggage claim. She was standing alone, looking scared, I thought. And again I was struck by how much she looked like Brina. But it wasn’t until later—after Kyle and I had shuttled to the hotel where we’d parked our car, and we’d started our journey toward home—that I realized I should have asked if she’d needed a ride.
And then that night, she was there again, in my dream.
Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares (Hebrews 13:2).