On the Fly

I have two consecutive weekend trips to Chicago coming up. I’m very excited for both- this weekend is the Midwest Division Young Life Student Staff Weekend- a gathering of 200+ elite college leaders. The following weekend, I’m heading back to Chicago for a wedding shower for my soon-to-be sister in law, the Elegant Erica Steinbach. As a bonus, I get to fly both times. As one who frequently drives 600 mile trips, and as one who is currently breastfeeding an infant who will be left behind, expediency is a high value and an airplane ride a gift!

When traveling alone, I look forward to the terminal wait and flight time in the air as time with I’ll get with a book and few interruptions. Undisturbed reading time, time set aside for me to just read instead of do something with or for a child, or at and for my home, is rare these days.

What usually happens to me however, is to have my reading time hijacked by a conversation with a seat partner. I don’t mean to sound negative and impersonal, its just that so often, my “alone”time with a book turns into a flight-long conversation with a stranger! People close to me assure me I ask for it.

After take off, with my book out, I usually make an effort to make a casual friendly remark, just a small humanitarian gesture of goodwill, with the seat mate. A simple question is all I pose and intend to go back to my book, having shared a pleasantry and a face-to-face connection in an increasingly digitally connected world that sometimes severs our authentic, spontaneous human bonds. I usually just ask, or am asked, “Traveling for business or pleasure?” or “Are you from Chicago/Denver/Grand Rapids etc.. or visiting someone?” type of questions.

It seems to me, one can answer the question, perhaps a couple more cursory ones, and then end the conversation. There are naturally derived follow-up questions of course. When someone answers, “Pleasure- its grandparent’s day at my grandkids school in North Carolina”, you ask, “How old are your grandkids?” and then genuinely affirm their grandparent love and dedication forĀ  traveling across the country for an elementary school program. They ask you two simple questions back and the interaction ends smoothly in less than 5 minutes. I’m back to the book!

But no, Not for me. Nope.

When traveling, I wear a sign on my forehead that reads,

“I’m friendly and extroverted.

Please have conversations with me that last the duration of this flight.

Tell me stories. Ask me lots of questions.

It’s a pretty big and obvious sign, and has over the years, invited many a long conversation with a stranger about Young Life, skiing, Denver, children, babies, breastfeeding, working from home, parenting teenagers, what it means to be a chemist by profession, his brother in law who loves Michigan, and on and on.

I can bring many of these people to mind. And while I sometimes feel frustrated and cheated out of my precious, isolated, book reading time, I often leave the plan feeling energized, encouraged, entertained or at least touched by anOTHER who trusted me enough to share something and listen to me as well.

One particular conversation has stuck with me.

I was traveling back from visiting my cousin in Seattle. I was flying alone on a crowded, 3 hour non-stop flight. I sat on the aisle next to a big, tall, older (at, or pushing 80 years old) gentleman wearing jean overalls. He was from a agricultural world and stuck out on the plane of professional or family travelers. Indeed, I would come to learn he didn’t travel much and had made the long plane trip, one of less than 5 in his life, to visit a dieing niece- a sad story of cancer taking away someone much too young. He was the only surviving member of his generation and his daughter had paid for him to fly up for the time together as a family. The trip had been an adventure for him, he was tired and out of his element, but he was strong and not complaining.

We continued to converse and the topic turned to his late wife. He spoke lovingly of the woman he loved for 55 years of marriage. I was engaged at the time and said something to the effect of, “Wow. I hope I can make it that long and feel that much love for someone all the way through life. How did you do it?” He had a few things to say about commitment and sticking it out, but then he said, in all seriousness, something that shocked me and made great sense at the same time. He said,

“The best thing we’d do was, when we were in a fight and really mad at each other, we’d take off all our clothes. Just get naked, right there, both of us. Then we’d get in the shower to finish the fight. It’s really hard to stay mad when you’re wet and naked. It takes the fight right out of you. We’d end it and make up. So, if you’re in a trouble spot with your husband someday, I suggest you take a shower together, right then.”

Sure, it was funny and I felt a bit uneasy trying not to picture this tall, big man taking off his overalls to fit himself into a bathtub/shower with another grown person!

However, I loved the raw, honest, naked truth in it. I loved the privilege of being the one person on the plane who got to hear his story- with the pain of losing a young niece, having lost the sweet love of his life a few years ago, and now going it alone on uncomfortable and challenging trips cross country, but holding his head up, and sharing what he learned worked to keep love alive and well in his family.

A few years later, I was given a poster entitled “Ways to Really Love a Child” I hung it above my washer and have been grateful to glance at it, read it and remember some of it’s simple reminders as I lug loads of clothes into the washer. A couple admonitions from the poster:

1. Remember how really small they are

2. Make really big forts.

3. Teach them to say I’m sorry

4. Make straws out of licorice

5. Let them paint their tennis shoes

and one that grabbed me right away:

“If they are grumpy, put them in water.”

It was just like the farmer said on the plane! When he and his wife were grumpy, they got in water!

Turns out, getting naked and immersing yourself in water is great for crabby, grumpy, fit throwing adults and kids!

I can report it works for my kids. They love swimming and don’t get mad or stay mad in a pool or bathtub.

Drew and me, we haven’t experimented with the advice as often as we could have but try to take care of our love in some other intentional ways. Perhaps in our next house, the shower will be bigger…

Friday I’ll be on another plane ride. If I’m lucky I’ll get to read my Crossfit training manual in prep for my upcoming certification class to become a certified instructor. Or, if I’m lucky, I’ll get to meet someone new, interesting (or not), who needs someone to talk to and hear from that day. I’ll try to be open to either opportunity.


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