He looked to be about 50 years of age. A farmer. As I sat down next to him, he immediately told me that this was his very first time on an airplane. I must confess I looked to see if there was a puke bag in the seat pocket in front of him….just in case. “So how are you feeling?” I asked him. “Good,” he answered. “Excited!” he continued. I smiled. I hoped it would turn out well for him – and for me – and for the young girl in the window seat next to him whom he had also informed about his first flight adventure.
As we took off and climbed into the sky, I glanced over. He seemed fine. I looked again as I heard him say under his breath, “Wow! Now THAT’s power!” “It sure did climb fast,” he turned and said to me. “Yeah, pretty powerful,” I replied.
He was obviously not accustomed to airplane protocol – as the stewardess’s voice came over the intercom system asking people to take out the safety instructions card from the seat pocket and follow along, he did. I suspect he was the only one. He followed it right to the end and even listened to the French version – even though I’m not sure he understood.
As the beverage cart got closer, and he asked me. “Is that free or do we to pay for it?” “It’s free unless you want alcohol,” I replied. He didn’t take a beverage or the pretzels or cookies that were offered him.
“I wonder how fast this plane is going?” he asked me. “I’m not sure,” I replied, pulling out the airline’s magazine. I turned to the back page. We figured out what plane we were flying on and determined that it was travelling at close to 500 miles an hour. “That’s fast!” he exclaimed. I smiled.
When we started our descendent, it got a little rough and he had a little worried look on his face. But it only lasted for a short time as the plane made its way through the clouds and we could see the ground below.
As soon as we landed, he commented on how quickly the brakes slowed us down and I immediately heard the click of his seat belt as he unbuckled himself. He was the only one. I didn’t want to tell him that he should have waited for the announcement.
“So how was your first flight?” I asked him. “Was it different than what you expected?” I continued. “Yes, it was, but it was good,” he said. “I think I can do it again,” he smiled.
He went ahead of me into the airport. When I got into the terminal, he looked a little lost. I’m not sure he knew where to go next, so I stopped. “Where do you need to go?” I asked. He showed me a map. “Why don’t you go over to that desk?” I said pointing to the information counter. “I think they’ll be able to help you out,” I continued.
“Thanks a lot, Bud,” he said and shook my hand. “Good luck!” I said to him. “You too,” he replied. And we parted ways.
It’s a simple story and yet it reminded me of the journey of grief. Every grief journey is like a first flight. We are not sure how it will be. But we have to make a conscious decision to become a passenger. We have some control of the journey, but many factors require us to tighten our seatbelts. At other times, it’s okay to be free and move around.
Grief really is an experience. It’s all new. So different. And yet, we know that somehow, we are going to make it to the next destination. We need to. But perhaps the destination isn’t so much a place where we need to arrive but a true inner knowledge that our lives will be different – and in that life which is different we can still experience joy and happiness – while acknowledging that it’s really okay to still miss what we no longer have in our lives.
So thankful I met the farmer who took his first flight and the lessons he taught me. Glad he didn’t puke either!