I get anxious when I fly. Always have. Not bad anxiety, just that thought process of, “Well, if it all ends today, are my ducks in a row?” There’s an acute spiritual awareness that comes with being 20,000 feet in the air, hurtling through the sky at 500 miles an hour. It’s that feeling of knowing you’re a tiny dot amid billions of dots, all crashing into and bouncing off of each other. You are a pebble in an ocean of life, your presence a ripple that echoes infinitely.
And with that, I also revel in the airline experience. Especially during the holidays. All of those anonymous faces, loved by people I’ll never know, rushing around in the chaos of traveling, heading home, wherever that may be, to see the beloved faces and familiar places of their past.
All of those people, trying to get from Point A to Point B, in due time. Sitting at Bad Daddy’s Burger Bar in the Charlotte airport, I awaited my flight to Boston on Christmas Eve. I sat, sipping on an overpriced Coors Light, staring blankly at the glowing box in the upper corner, which was airing the “Best Sports Plays of 2014.”
I tried to make small talk with those around me. Nobody was really having it. They seemed too occupied about getting home, too stuffed up and full of sniffles, or simply were like a lot of people these days — not interested in talking to a stranger. Face-to-face communication is a lost art in our time, and yet I strive every day to resurrect that craft with those around me.
Boarding the plane, I found my seat. Last row. Next to the bathroom. Oh well, at least it was only a two-hour or so flight. Soon, a young mother and her two sneezing toddlers filled the other two seats in my row. The father was right behind, and a little irate, seeing as he was seated elsewhere in the plane, nowhere near his family.
I stood up and offered to switch seats with him. No big deal. With the situation resolved, the stewardess thanked me and offered to put me in first class, seeing as there was one empty seat up yonder. First class? Never been there before. So, like something out of a Seinfeld episode, I gained access to the land of endless legroom and free adult beverages.
It was when I got comfortable with my large seat and Heineken that I first met Peggy Davis. With a Bloody Mary held high, she saluted me when I cracked open my beer and I wished her a Merry Christmas.
We started talking. She’s 89 years old and grew up in Detroit. A retired kindergarten teacher, she spent her life traveling the world and raising a family with her late husband. We chatted about living in Southern Appalachia (she lives in Eastern Tennessee), our separate experiences around Europe, how Detroit went from the “Motor City” to a barren wasteland, and how sparking a conversation with a stranger is one of the pleasures of life.
She smiled and paused for a moment when I asked her what she thought about turning 90.
“What’s the point of living life if you aren’t going to live it?” she said. “When I turn 90 next year, I’m going to tether a hot air balloon in my front yard and ride in it.”
And with that we clinked glasses to another day amid the beauty of the cosmos. We ended up conversing for the rest of the flight, and when we parted ways, she gave me her address and invited me to her upcoming birthday.
“I’ve always wanted to ride in a hot air balloon,” I said.
“Well, now you can,” she responded, shaking my hand goodbye.
I headed down the terminal ramp and out of the airport to meet my friend who was picking me up. And as I stood there, a sea of travelers, shuttles and taxis swirling around me, I thought of all those strangers within my vicinity, how each has a story as unique and incredible as the next. I thought of Peggy Davis, and I smiled.
Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all.
1 The Balsam Range “Winter Concert Series” (bluegrass/Americana) will continue with the Jeff Little Trio at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 3 at the Colonial Theatre in Canton.
2 PMA (rock) will have a New Year’s Eve Bash at 8 p.m. Dec. 31 at Innovation Brewing in Sylva.
3 Legendary banjoist Raymond Fairchild & Friends will perform at 7 p.m. Dec. 31 at Eaglenest in Maggie Valley.
4 Superstar comedian Jeff Foxworthy will hit the stage at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 3 at Harrah’s Cherokee.
5 Humps & The Blackouts (psychobilly/rock) will perform at 9 p.m. Jan. 1 at No Name Sports Pub in Sylva.