Journal Dispatches: June 30, 2021. Flight, Memory & Chance

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A commercial pilot acquaintance of mine suggested mornings as the best time to fly out of Atlanta. I took his advice. 

Airline seating is tight. The planes are not going faster, they’re just narrower, and tighter, especially in domestic flights. Smaller feels faster. I checked seat guru. Tighter space has been taking place for years. Add social, political angst in tight space and attitudes are reflected in acts – some rude, some conciliatory, though most people want to get to their destination with minimal ill will and safe. 

Perhaps, obvious to someone like me who has been flying since the 1960’s when seating was more spacious, the metal “tube” (formerly the cabin) was larger. And flying was more fun pre-911, pre-pandemic, etcetera…the list is long. Fuel economy is a major concern and profits to stakeholders among other factors. New designs will be made. The passenger cabin of the future may be in the wings.

Meanwhile, my connecting flight retained a military look with an off shade of gray, twin engine turbo prop with probably a dozen or more people seated. The ride was reminiscent of previous treks in different and remote parts of the world. People seeking adventure or for some, a misplaced god or goddess. 

Each journey I undertake opens the doors to more than just the destination. The meaning of a journey for me reflects the present and the past and at times envelopes my senses whether flying over a jungle, crossing a desert or ocean, or simply driving across the country. With each journey I discover more about myself and what it means to be humane and thoughtful. The journey is revealing even when it is in the confines of my mind.

The plane and the revery I was experiencing ended abruptly when we landed and stopped about fifty yards from the terminal, whereby the passengers deboarded and walked over the remaining steamy pavement. With a leather bag slung over my shoulder, I looked up as I entered the building, walking towards the exit I noticed a woman across the room gazing at me. There was someone standing near her.

The face was familiar. The eyes filled with experience, an attractive smile, thick lips, high cheek bones and highlighted hair. But who was this person? She smiled, an endearing smile and nodded, and I returned the smile and the nod. What’s the etiquette of approaching a familiar looking stranger? I didn’t have to decide. The person next to her started talking to her. She turned towards him. 

Fifteen minutes later leaving the airport in a taxi I noticed the taxi next to mine was carrying the person I had seen a few minutes before. A smile emerged as she looked at me. I returned the same. Exiting onto the highways our respective taxis headed in the opposite directions. 

At the hotel I retrieved my laptop computer and began researching archives of old photographs and writings I had compiled from the past. I began recalling faces attached to memories or the converse. The brain and the body have their own timetable. I don’t know time. That is, to me it’s like defining electricity. I know how it works but I don’t know what it really is. I don’t have a mathematical mind.

Chance occurs. To quote the character, Gandalf the Grey from J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, “It’s a dangerous business Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” 

Sometime stepping outside your thoughts can also sweep you away. I was bewildered in trying to recollect where and when I had seen the person at the airport before.

Memory is essential to our humanity and the context of our existence. I stopped researching and walked over to a coffeeshop. I ordered an ice green tea which they were out of the ingredients, and so I shrugged and decided to order a cup of coffee.

And in that flash of time, I remembered her. The switch between the green tea and coffee was the stimulant that caused me to remember her. From a linear perspective it was over three decades ago. We were taking the same course in graduate school and went to a local coffeeshop after class where we switched from green tea (the shop was out of it) to coffee, followed by a conversation about our respective futures. Neither of us knew for certain even with a couple master’s degrees in hand.                                                                                                                                                

Does coincidence and chance overlap with serendipity? Perhaps there was no deeper meaning than what occurred? I began wondering where she was headed and what she had been doing with her life. Then again, did I want to know, and did she really want to know more about me? Perhaps…my mind indulged itself in a what if conversation. Perhaps the endearing smile and nod were all the acknowledgement that was necessary of each other’s existence. Perhaps that’s the essence of life – acknowledging each other’s existence even if it’s just a smile and a nod.