In boarding a small commuter airline plane, I found that I was sitting next to a somewhat attractive lady with long blond hair and a rather pensive look about her. She was not particularly friendly as determined by her demeanor and the fact that she was staring off to some private place.
As the commotion of an airplane filling up subsided, the lone flight attendant held up a large white plastic bag and announced that the bag was full of photographs and was found on top of the baggage cart for our plane. Did they belong to anyone on our flight?
The former pensive lady sitting next to me yelled out, “That’s my pictures.” If she could have jumped out of the seat, she would have. However, jumping from the window seat across a guy my size into the aisle of a commuter plane and not breaking something major would have been a feat of considerable proportion, possibly meriting attention from the people at the Guiness Book of World Records.
From her awkward position, leaning over, head twisted she and the flight attendant began to engage in a spirited conversation with me sitting in the middle of it (what fun). I learned that the bag of pictures had been placed in the middle compartment of a locked suitcase that had a tight strap wrapped securely around it. How could it have come open, the pictures fall out and nothing else unless someone had deliberately opened it? After many questions to the flight attendant and the baggage handler, who had been summoned, the agreement was reached to talk to a supervisor at our destination in San Antonio. They could determine at that time if anything else was missing and perhaps discover why the pictures fell out. They couldn’t retrieve the suitcase right then as it was in the belly of the plane and we certainly couldn’t hold up the “80% on-time record” of this plane.
After we took off, I was so curious that I couldn’t help but try to involve myself and make conversation with my seatmate. Through low key and softly worded questions, I learned that the lady with the photographs was on her way to San Antonio to visit her twenty-year-old middle son, who was in the Reserves with one of the military branches. She had a younger son, who was in South Korea. She did not mention where her oldest son was. She was coming to San Antonio from Colorado Springs. She wore a wedding band and an engagement ring but a husband was not mentioned.
I was getting more inquisitive as we slowly carried on this conversation, and I asked why she was bring bringing pictures to this son. Did they capture some special event and she was afraid to mail them? My seatmate explained that she had disassembled all of her family scrapbooks, had made bundles of pictures for each of her three boys. She planned to visit each of them and present him with his package of pictures. I continued to look at her waiting to hear the rest of her story and her logic. Neither she nor her children seemed old enough to break up the pictures of a lifetime. After moments of silence, she turned toward the window of the plane and told me very softly and hesitantly that she had received some sad news from her doctors and felt compelled to make these three trips.
Taken aback, I quietly told her that I was sorry and hoped all would work out in her favor. She stared out the window of the plane as I grappled with what I should do or say or if I should do or say anything. I was so filled with emotion that breathing was difficult, as a wave of sadness came over me. This lady was standing in the hallway leading to death’s door. She was dealing with the issues most important to her – those being memories and legacy. She was demonstrating such courage that I could only sit there in silence and marvel at her strength.
Nothing else was said. What could I have said? Certainly something, but the words did not come as I looked at her out of the corner of my eye and watched the single tear roll down her cheek.