I was flying home from Palm Springs to Brussels. That weekend two major airlines had a computer-merging-whatever that and everywhere I looked, there were frustrated people at customer service desks. I had just boarded the plane from San Francisco to Washington before being asked to leave the airplane and to wait at the gate for more information.
I’m probably the only one who never really minds a change of plan. What I love about it is this: people start talking to each other. We would do everything we possibly can to avoid bumping into each others suitcases, but in small moments of despair we desperately seek someone with more information or someone to listen to our mental chatter: “I sure hope that next plane takes us in Washington in time, I’ve got my sister’s wedding to go to, and she ain’t the type of bride to accept delays and other excuses, if you know what I mean..”
Suddenly we rise from “anonymous passengers” to “people with important destinations” and I must admit – it makes the waiting so exhilarating. I’m probably the only passenger secretly hoping for something unusual, just to find out where that intriguing woman, sitting next to me in row 26, is going to…
But the real party started when I saw this old couple sitting at the gate. My fellow passengers had morphed into jungle monkeys, climbing over each other to get more information at the front desk, but this old couple was just sitting there, quietly chuckling. I stepped back and took a mental picture. Darwin would’ve said: it’s the survival of the patient. The fast–paced generation going completely mental with delay –making nervous phone calls and twittering about the company fail – and the fax-generation watching it go by wisely.
Ironically, when I boarded the new plane, this old couple were my neighbours – the intriguing woman had vanished! I couldn’t help spying on my new neighbours and decided to offer them chocolates. They had traveled the world and he was originally from Germany. We did not say much, but I found it heartwarming, the way they treated each other. I might sound stupid, but being a child from divorced parents, it was such a treat to see an old couple being so sweet, loving and even cheeky to each other. I think the lady sensed my smile the whole time and all we exchanged, were superficial facts on where we lived and where we were going to, but there was an understanding of kindness – something that’s very hard to explain in words. You can see it in someone’s eyes or smile. Genuine, whole-hearted kindness.
I felt so overwhelmed I rattled in the overhead bin for pen and paper and started scribbling words and I came up with a poem. I read it a thousand times before I was happy with it and decided I would give it to them after landing, so they wouldn’t read it in my presence. I was way too self-conscious. I just wanted to return the favour in a way, for showing me that love can endure, and that you can grow old together without wanting to kill each other. Maybe they reminded me of my long-gone grandmother, with her never-ending love and humor. Maybe they just made me more patient. I just remember being very grateful.