I don’t remember her name.
Whenever I think of her, I am ashamed of this and I desperately try to retrieve her name from the vaults of my memory—but it never comes to me.
One thing I will never forget for the rest of my life is the way she made me feel.
At the ripe age of 13 years old, I was flying on an airplane (alone) for the first time in my life. I was terrified. I had seen way too many airplane disaster movies and my creative mind imagined the worse case scenario. A slight bump or a little jolt of turbulence obviously meant that one or both of the plane’s engines had died or the roof was going to rip off or we would be taken over by hijackers and were all going to plummet to our death 30,000 feet below us.
My logic somehow disappeared as the plane lifted off and I found myself gripping the arm rest next to me—my fingers turning purple—waiting for sudden death.
I hadn’t yet discovered meditation, as my pounding heart and extreme breath holding indicated.
And then she was there.
A sweet older lady sitting next to me grabbed my right hand and held it in hers without saying a word. Her fingers and palm were warm against my cold, discolored one and we sat that way for a few minutes in silence.
Surprised, it calmed me a little more than I expected. I did not even know this woman.
My breathing slowed.
“I know you’re afraid, honey. Airplanes used to scare me.”
She shared stories with me of how she spent her time during World War II building and repairing airplanes. Her voice was soothing, her presence calming. I soon became lost in the world of her memory as she repeatedly assured me, “This too shall pass,” with each shake of the plane.
Her heroic actions of bravery were spoken of so matter-of-factly that I am not sure she realized how much of an impression she made on my young mind. Instead of worrying about turbulence, I was transported to the past and the future all at once, filled with hope that I would have amazing life adventures to share someday.
The instant connection we both shared—though generations apart–was something of an ethereal quality that I had not yet experienced in my young life.
I was jolted back to reality as the plane landed, for she had managed to ease all my fears.
I finally asked her what was her purpose for traveling. She became quiet for a moment and her eyes glistened as she looked past me before answering. She was traveling to attend the funeral of her sister who had died suddenly a few days before.
Though our time together was short, I didn’t have to ask her by the way she answered. I knew that this sister was close to her heart, apart of her. I could feel it in the way she paused when she spoke, when her eyes filled with tears, and how her voice choked on the last word of her sentence.
A mixture of gratitude and shame washed over me at once. While this woman was in pain and hurting, she unselfishly gave her time, her presence, and her courage to help me, a complete stranger.
I was too young to understand then how much I had helped her; that our chance encounter was not by chance, but a purposeful connection of souls to fill one another in a moment of need.
I have never flown on an airplane again since that time without thinking of this nameless friend of mine who left a mark on my life that will never be forgotten.
For people come into our life at times and in ways that we often don’t always understand or comprehend. What is life for other than to give and receive love? And the greatest thing we can do for one another is to remember.
Author: Stephanie Parry
Editor: Caitlin Oriel
Image: Dan Zen/Flickr