In January of this year we were in Mexico to visit my parents, who were living in the Puerto Vallarta area. On the way home we were booked to fly from Puerto Vallarta to Seattle, and then Seattle to Vancouver on a late night flight. On our plane was the sweetest family – mother, father, son and daughter – who to this day, stand out in my memory. They were an immigrant couple, maybe from India, whose daughter had a physical disability and carried a walking stick to help her be more mobile. I remember that something appeared to be wrong with her eye and that she have very minimal vision, but I don’t believe I was able to pinpoint the disability exactly. The mother and father seemed very tired, and I didn’t get the feeling that this trip was a vacation for them.
Sometimes I make up stories while people watching – not knowing what’s happening in their true lives, I imagine what could be going on for them at the time. It’s partly self entertainment, and partly to create a connection with a stranger and relate to them on some emotional level, even if they never know it.
The story I imagined up about this particular couple was that they spent months and months saving up the money to fly their family to Seattle to get the medical attention their daughter deserved. They were flying home with a positive outlook on life.
Who knows if my story was anywhere near the truth…
The memory my husband and I took away of them was a happy one. The son was sitting next to his Dad, and as the plane was waiting to pull up to the gate, the son, looking lovingly up at his father, said “Papa? Do you like your sweater?” and his father said with a tired smile “Yes, I do.” As many children would, the son then turned this into an innocent and entertaining game to pass the time.
“Papa, do you like my sister?”
“Papa, do you like me?”
“Papa, do you like Mommy?”
And then after clanging the seat belt and it’s buckle together in a simple rhythm for a few seconds…
“Papa, do you like my song?”
The little boy asked his questions with a giggle, and all along the father diligently and amusedly answered “Yes”.
And to this day, we occasionally look at each other and say in a cute little voice “Papa, do you like my sweater?”.
In fact, Manaen used the boy’s line this evening as a way of apologizing to me. He said in a voice to imitate the little boy “Papa, do you still like me?”I, of course, replied “Yes, I do.”
Then, after class tonight, on my way to my car in the parking lot I passed by a father, a son and…. a daughter who (can you believe it?) had a bandage around her head and was carrying a walking stick.
It took me a moment to realize, but then it hit me. I just walked by the same family to whom we have been referring to since January, whose actions on the plane are embedded in our relationship through a story to which we associate happy and fond memories, whose innocent and adorable game has had an impact on our lives.
I made it to my car and then paused and stood there with the door open for a minute or two. Should I approach them and tell them how they had an impact (a tiny impact but yes, an impact nonetheless) on our lives? That we thought of them fondly many times since seeing them and wondered how they were doing? That they made an impression on me without even knowing?
This was too big of a coincidence to not say anything, right?
I closed the door, locked the car and made my way over to where they had sat down. Okay– I had no idea what I was going to say, but felt I had to say something.
So I spoke to the Dad and tried to explain the story. It didn’t come out at all eloquently and was obviously unrehearsed, but I did say something. I also mentioned “I realize how strange this must seem…” quite a bit. Maybe a few times too many….
But hopefully it touched him in some way – the fact that we had fond memories of them and that they made such a positive impression on us – over the span of an hour – on a plane ride from Seattle.
I didn’t find out much to corroborate the story I imagined about them. His wife is taking an Accounting course at my college. They did fly from Seattle to Vancouver, but I don’t know why. I didn’t catch their names or find out what disability his daughter has to overcome at such a young age. But I said something nonetheless. Maybe I’m not supposed to know the details so my imagined story can live on in my mind.
The whole way home I could only think about how connected we truly are as human beings, living and struggling and loving and dying together in this world, how we are so truly and deeply linked to one another.
How thick exactly is that thread which connects us – across borders (literal and figurative), cultures, times and beliefs? How many people do we pass on the street without realizing we’re connected to them? Like this family is to me and my husband, have we had that effect on others without knowing?
A nurse who was tending to my brother after he had his appendix out recognized me instantly from Paris when we were there a few years ago. We never spoke, we never interacted, and there in my hometown hospital, this woman could recall the exact day and moment she took notice of me on the streets of Paris. There are millions of stories like this everyday….
More and more I witness these connections, and more and more it astounds me to my core.