Thursday, June 07, 2007

Connecting Flight

On my flight home from New Orleans I had the center seat in an exit row and I got there first.

The first row mate to join me was the guy in the aisle seat.

Once he got settled he looked at me and said,

"You're not a talker are you?"
I told him no, I wasn't a talker.

First of all, it's the truth and secondly, I was almost done reading The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls and wanted to finish the book.

Then it occurred to me to ask him if he was a talker.

He told me that yes, he was one.

(Whoops.)

But seriously? A plane talker? Who openly admits it? Wow.

I was friendly for a few minutes (okay, maybe a minute) and then returned to my book.

When the guy sitting in the window seat showed up there was no talking. He squeezed himself past us both and into his seat.

Sandwiched between the window and aisle men, I read my book and finished it.

[Holy cow! The parenting described in THAT book!]

I got up to use the sky toilet, window man got up to use it, there was a great resettling... and then, with ten minutes left between the three of us and the gate, we started... talking.

(Gasp!)

We talked about where we were from and learned that Aisle Man was a native New Orleanian, but had been in Georgia for 20 years while Window Man, originally from upstate New York, now lived in Portland, Maine.

Aisle Man left New Orleans to seek greater opportunity. At first he went to California, but he felt he was too far away from his mother and wanted to return to the south.

"I'm southern," he told me. "I feel more comfortable here - and I needed to be near my family."

Aisle Man had a sister in Georgia and settled here to blend opportunity with family proximity.

I asked Window Man what drew him from New York to Maine.

"My sister," he said. "She was sick and I went to take care of her. She had cancer."

"How long ago was that?" I asked.

"Two years ago," he said.

"How is she doing now?" I asked.

"She passed away a year ago. She was 31. She had just been married."

Window Man looked out the window.

"I'm so sorry," I said. "That sounds really hard."

He turned back to Aisle Man and I.

"I never got to say goodbye to her. All my siblings did, but not me. She knew her cancer was fatal, but I didn't. She never told me. I guess she was trying to protect me from something she didn't think I could handle."

He paused.

"I miss her," he said.

We talked about the ways that the death of a loved one hurts, how some days it feels like it just happened while other days are better.

Aisle Man told us that his mother passed away nine years ago on his daughter's first birthday and how much he missed her.

I talked about my Grandfather who passed away earlier this year.

We were three strangers talking about love and loss...

It was nice.

As much as I appreciate the quiet time to read, perhaps I should reconsider my position on plane talking...


70 comments:

Delton said...

How interesting. I have always had a hard time opening up to new people in person. Just recently I read something that has made me question that approach. Basically it was to try to look at these random people as each having something interesting to offer, perhaps a connection to the world as you found, or maybe even a lesson that needs to be learned. Thanks for driving this point home to me and teaching me my lesson for the day!

Lawyer Mama said...

Damn. That was certainly an interesting plane conversation. I'm a bury-the-head-in-the-book kind of gal and I never really give anyone the opportunity to talk. Maybe I'm missing out.

(By the way, I loved that book just b/c it made me feel like an awesome parent!)

Misa Gracie said...

I'm not much of a plane talker either. Except once. I decided (don't really know why) that since I would never see these people again I would talk with an accent. Bond, James Bond.

It was fun and kept me entertained. I'm sure people could see through my lame attempts at using British slang but I didn't care. Worst case scenario, I was providing them with humorous anecdotes for later.

mommiebear2 said...

Wow, I dont think I have ever had that deep of a conversation on a plane, ever. When you're traveling with two small children, one who tends to puke a lot - not too many people want to chat you up.

Julie Pippert said...

What an interesting conversation, what a quick come and go bond with these people. I wonder what they walked away with.

I talk on planes out of sheer terror. I hope the other people are intersting enough to distract me but instead I see all I am is contagious. ;)

Augs Casa said...

I envy you for sharing that post with us all. I have been in a somber mood lately and this actually put a smile on my face.

Megan (Velveteen Mind) said...

Living in the South, I am always amazed and comforted by the plethora of moments like that to be found if you just open yourself up to them.

I'm not one to offer up information to strangers, but if you make yourself receptive to it, such rich and tangled hills of kudzu to be discovered!

I've had quite a few moments like this lately and never got around to sharing them. I'll start by Sharing yours, then I really should take a page from my Oh, The Joys book and start spreading that kudzu of stories.

BTW, the photo was strikingly perfect. Made me take a deep breath and exhale.

Veronica Mitchell said...

What an unexpectedly lovely conversation. And I love that photo.

My sister is the queen of plane talkers. She gets people to laugh. When she was in college she once brought a coloring book and crayons on the plane and got the people around her to color too. She's awesome.

Kim said...

I'm not a plane talker either...but then again, I'm not one for striking up conversations with strangers in other places either.

This post makes me think that sometimes it would be worth it to get out of my comfort zone and interact in a situation like this...maybe next time I'll give it a try.

Patience said...

I don't have a problem talking to people in these situations because I know that likely I'll never see them again. But one never knows the good that might come from a conversation with a stranger!

momomax said...

when I get stressed out, I like to either take a xanex, wrap myself in a warm blanket and hibernate or best of all, read what you're saying.

Bon said...

that left me with a lovely, wistful, pleased-with-moments-of-just-being- human kind of smile on my face. sometimes random people are the greatest friends, just for a second. which is all that's needed, sometimes.

and yeh, The Glass Castle...my stars.

ps...trying to get my site to pop up when you click my name, as you mentioned...not sure my google account is configured as such. testing...testing...

nikki said...

Great conversation. My Oma passed away quite unexpectedly on Friday. Losing a loved one shakes a person's soul. I don't think we can ever fully come to terms with the loss.

Melina said...

I would say that I'm a plane talker, but usually only if the person next to me wants to be talked to unlike my mother, who will talk to anyone, anytime anywhere, whether they want to hear from her or not.

She has had some of the most interesting plane conversations I've ever heard (though I think yours was pretty up there too). It's amazing how three total strangers could find a bond for even just a brief moment that they will probably remember for a long time. It truely is a small world.

Abbynormal said...

I once kissed a boy I met on a plane. hawhaw it was awesome! Such a good story.

Sayre said...

I always bring a book or two or three, but if someone wants to talk, I'm willing to converse. I was coming home from DC one year and a tall, gangly kid was sitting next to me. He introduced himself and we wound up talking all the way back home. I seem to have a knack for talking with teenaged boys and young men - which probably comes from having so many brothers. When we got off the plane, he thanked me for talking to him because he was a nervous flyer but didn't want it to show.

slouching mom said...

It's true, and a little sad, I think, that people are willing to share so rawly, so honestly, with others on a plane...precisely because they know they'll never see their travel companions again.

Lisa Milton said...

I love to read on long trips - I used to ride Greyhound (!) instead of driving to see my parents to steal a few free hours.

But honestly, I met some of the most interesting people this way. People that opened up.

Thanks for sharing this today. I needed it.

Tabba said...

When you have a spare couple of seconds, check this out....and the link at the bottom.......

http://www.maigh.com/2007/04/26/single-serving-buddy/

Jenifer said...

Not that I fly much, but I don't really talk much on planes. I am usually with someone (well always actually) so there really isn't the opportunity.

It is like you know you will never see them again and there is a certain time alloted and this is it, so it affords you the opportunity to open up in a way.

Thanks for the book info too, I will look for it. Oh I answered at my place, but yeah my Hubby is Greek.

angela said...

and this is why i love talking to strangers, waiting tables and bartending. and this is why i also hate talking to a computer over the phone. i always press '0' immediately.

did you just randomly choose that photo or do you know about robert & shana parkeharrison? that photo is from a series called, "The Architect's Brother" and it is an amazing collection of photo manipulations- the ever-existing conflict b/w humans and nature.

here is a quote from the artist:
"We no longer value our interconnection, our very real dependence on the Earth. We have so fabricated and refined our civiliztion that we have no relationship to nature and its cycles."

perfect accompaniment to your entry today.

i cried.

nutmeg said...

And they say men can't open up!

Gingers Mom said...

Wow. THat is terribly sad.

I can be a plane talker sometimes. I admit it. Please don't shun me.

Biddy said...

oh how i wish i had written a letter like that to my precious Papa. Sounds like you and I had very similar relationships with our grandaddies..

I've tried to do the whole plane talking thing. If I had ever found someone to have a meaningful conversation like this with, I might still do it...

Above Average Joe said...

I'm a no talker on planes. The odds that you engage in logical, meaningful conversation like you had is minimal.

Kevin Charnas said...

Joys, it's so true. I often find myself doing the same thing. The ordeal that Will and I went through recently on our vacation a couple months ago forced us to talk with all these people that we were traveling with...because we were stranded with them, almost crashed, etc.

And it was truly wonderful. A really good reminder that we really have much, much more in common than we all think.

And that makes the world seem a lot less lonely.

Omaha Mama said...

Beautiful story. I wonder if window man has ever been that honest with his own family. If they know how he feels. Amazing how open people can sometimes be with strangers. I guess that's the idea behind support groups.

Mimi said...

Sometimes it's easier to talk to strangers than people in your life, people you'll see again tomorrow. As many other commenters have noted.

Is plane-talking like blogging?

Life As I Know It said...

Sometimes it is a lot easier to talk to a stranger about deep and important stuff...especially a stranger you know you'll never see again.

I was at the library this morning scouring the "w's" trying to remember who wrote the Glass Castle. Never remembered, but I'll write it down for next time now that I read it here...(yes, I could have looked it up since I was at the library of all places, but with two kids running amok I grabbed whatever I could find, which was The Devil Wears Prada).

Little Monkies said...

It will not surprise you that I am a plane talker and I love it. I get when people don't want to talk, and often I don't want to either, but I have had the most beautiful and personal conversations with people on planes. People whose names I forgot the minute they told me, but whose intimate details I now know well.

I think it's a way for people to get some interpersonal time without the pressure of our daily existence. And it warms my heart to know that people can just connect as humans without all of the stuff that goes on in between.

I'm sitting here thinking of all of the great convos I've had--the sad ones, the happy ones, the weird ones...what a trip down memory lane!

Mike M said...

Great blog!! I will be back for more

-0-0-

flutter said...

does it scare you that I would want to talk to you on a plane, too?

thordora said...

I've actually had some of my most profound conversations with strangers-you don't interact the same, you don't worry about how they might see you...

however, on a plane, my ass takes up a lot of room, which generally pisses people off.

imhelendt said...

You probably want to maintain your plane talking position. It sounds like you've never sat next to someone with KICKEN' breath who wouldn't stop opening their mouth. ;D I tried offering him a mint and gum. He refused. Rule of thumb: NEVER refuse mint or gum when someone offers it to you. It could be for a reason. ;D Anyway, 5 hours of breath smelling like the gates of hell converted me to a no plane talker permanently. ;)

WILLIAM said...

The three of you, in between destinations, not where you came from and not where you are going to end up, talking about, just that.


Very Cool.

CamiKaos said...

I am not a plane talker either, or a train talker, or a bar talker... Sounds like it was a good time for you to start.

BOSSY said...

Geesh - Bossy has to stop drinking Bloody Marys on her flights and instead look around...

Tessa said...

Its amazing what you can learn when you talk to strangers. Sometimes it can even help heal.

ali said...

i love single-serving friends. you can meet such interesting people on airplanes :)

Shelly said...

I'd never get that person. Whenever I talk, I get the one who thinks they are hilarious but really have bad breath and think, by talking to me, they get the armrest. They do NOT get the armrest.

Mrs. Chicken said...

I find I am more open since my father's death, and since then I've had many conversations like this.

Even me, judgmental old me, can find it in my heart to share these moments with strangers.

Lovely post.

QT said...

I usually test the waters with my book out - that way if no one says anything interesting I can start reading. But I have met wonderful people, I once sat next to a tiny, frail old woman who I found out had been extremely naughty in her younger years - she had some great stories.

I am glad your experience was positive, and I love that picture!

Jamie said...

"Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels." Hebrews 13:2

Thank you for the lovely post!

mcewen said...

You never know what lies beneath the surface or the face that people choose to wear.
Best wishes

Queen Heather said...

What a great read! Thank you!

The Real Mother Hen said...

Very interesting post. I don't have many good conversations with people on planes because I just read and sleep for most part. I should start talking on my next trip...

Hol&J said...

Interesting. I'm a mix between a talker & non-talker. I'll talk if the other person wants to, but I won't force it. Usually I'm reading.

I'll have to keep my eyes and ears open when I go visit my sister and her family in July.

liv said...

Mmmm...sometimes we do connect well with strangers. It's amazing what can come out when we don't have any preconceived notions of who the person we're talking to is. Ummm...sort of like blogging.

Plane talking, though. Last flight I was a no talker. But, I was also concentrating on listening to Pema Chodron on my iPod and concealing the fact that a might wind was trying to escape for 3 hours.

jeanie said...

Ha ha ha ha ha - I take a book in case there is noone interesting to talk to or I am near non-talkers.

I have met the most fascinating people this way, and you get some amazing stories.

Thanks for sharing yours.

Cece said...

I guess if you're going to start talking on the plane its great to have awesome aisle mates! Interesting conversation.

Note to self: Don't forget to charge ipod & pack your book for your flight next month.

Jen Magnuson said...

I think everything happens for a reason. What an interesting conversation. I tend to forget that everyone has a story, you know? I'm usually the frazzled one dragging several kids in tow just trying to get somewhere. Maybe I'll be a talker next time.

AND, I recently finished The Glass Castle. The scene where she falls out of the car? And her blase reaction? Like maybe she was the next kitten? Oh! Books like that make me feel like Mother of The Year.

Terri@SteelMagnolia said...

Hummmmm

KC said...

It's nice how it works out that way sometimes. Me, I'm often next to people you DO NOT want to talk to.

Stepping Over the Junk said...

I love this. Very sweet and "a moment" with strangers where everything seems to mesh in common.

Totally unrelated sort of...Portland, Maine is amazing. I drive through there every few weeks.

Mrs. Chicky said...

Dammit. I was not expecting that. I would have lost my cool in that situation.

mamatulip said...

What an amazing occurrance; an amazing post. I love those moments in life...those pauses, that look at the greater picture.

FENICLE said...

Sometimes I think strangers can teach us more about life & about ourselves than our best friends (who we rely on for advice/support).

Lisa said...

Wow. That was some deep conversation for plane talk. Wow. Amazing.

Major Bedhead said...

Wow. That was some good plane conversation. I've never been lucky enough to sit with anyone even remotely interested in having a conversation of any sort. Good thing I like to read.

creative-type dad said...

I hate to admit it, but I'm a plane talker. I find it easier to open up to complete strangers sometimes.

aimee / greeblemonkey said...

It's interesting to me that the Talker asked you in a way that insinuated he *didn't* want to talk.

But wow. What a great conversation.

(And I am middle ground on plane talking. I am not the best flyer, so I need to be in the mood... but when I am... watch out).

carrie said...

You just never know, do you?

I am glad that all of you were able to have that conversation.

Carrie

Shannon said...

One of the things that breaks my heart is when I hear of someone young and newly married, dying.

On the other note, what interesting and enriching things you can find out from talking to strangers.

Jennifer Playgroupie said...

Wow, that's deep plane talk. What a sad story.

Mama en Fuego said...

That gave me goosebumps

Karen Forest said...

Touching....

NotSoSage said...

That was amazing. I always seem to sit next to the person who wants to spout on and on about their terrible opinions on people from other countries and then invite me to their church meetings.

Queen Karana said...

I liked that book.

As far as plane talking, well, I'm a talker, I guess. But more if someone WANTS to talk to me. Otherwise, I probably won't say too much. Not to a 'plane stranger' anyway.

Mandy said...

Wow, that was powerful. I tend to be kinda shy with strangers and unless they are the "talkers" we don't usually end up talking.

matilda said...

Stories like this are the reason I live in New York - you can't help but be in contact with so many humans throughout the day. Sometimes it's annoying, but most of the time I appreciate the thousands of connections made through eye contact and bumping shoulders. Some inevitably lead to deeper conversations, and I find it thrilling to continually realize that there are so many people in the world, all with their own stories and concerns. Thank you for sharing this one!