To the Gen Zer in Seat 31D

I have never been to Knoxville until now.

Or, I should say, 10p.m. last night.

Rocketing through the storm soaked atmosphere of Tennessee at 500mph on a 787. The turbulence was batting us around like the little silver balls in the pinball machines of my grandmother’s basement we used to abuse as children. We’d slam the buttons as hard as we could, trying our damndest to send the little silver sphere streaking and tearing about.

Maybe it was karma, I thought, as a jolt knocked my elbow off the armrest into the mild mannered Gen Zer next to me. She gave me a slightly nervous but forgiving smile without saying anything. Neither of us wanted to wake the sleeping toddler in my arms. The one who’d cried and cried before crashing into a deep sleep. “Dodo,” she’d begged me between her tears. It means sleep in French and is a common phrase Cajun mothers whisper over their babes as those slip into slumber. Without my asking, the Gen Zer retucks the sweatshirt I’d balled up under my arm. I return the silent smile. She doesn’t know how much her small kindness means after my day.

A few hard “PAP PAP PAPs” in a row, the kind that make you feel like you’re sliding down stairs on your butt versus gliding through the air. The kind that sound like your luggage won’t be where you left it. I breath in a deep, long breath and try the meditative tricks my yogi friend suggested. “Pretend your toes are in the sand.” I’m sure she put it more elegantly than that, but it’s all my addled brain came conjure up. I close my eyes and listen to the stewardess’ chatty laughter behind me from where they’re strapped in. The one who’d played peek-a-boo with Andi (my daughter) and given me a free pair of headphones.

We land at 9:27 (two minutes after they’d announced, but who’s counting?). The sleeping toddler stays sleeping. A sweet couple across the row from me motions to the overhead bins and whisper, “Is your bag up there?”

I nod.

The round wife with the heavily painted eyebrows motions to her leathery husband at the same moment he gives me a bouncing thumbs up. He is leathery with kind eyes and a straw cowboy hat. When I go to take the bag from him, he waves me on, carrying it all the way to the top of the breezeway. I have to wait on a stroller, so we exchange doting looks: mine says, “you don’t know what such sweetness means to me on days like today.” Theirs says, “We’d give anything to have these days again.”

The stroller comes. It’s soaked with rain and in two pieces as opposed to the one I’d left it in. All I have to do is lift a lever and pull up on a handle doohickey in one motion. It takes two hands. And no sleeping toddler. I whisper an obscenity under my breath, crouching on legs stiff with adrenaline as I try the lever. Another hushed obscenity. The baby starts to stir in my arms. She lets out a heartbreaking whimper that says, “Why do you insist on hauling me all over the country when I have a perfectly good crib at home with my literal name on it?”

Just as I’m calculating what level on the Richter scale Andi would reach if I set her on the floor, a thick Tennessee drawl pours over my shoulder.

“Do you need help, hon?” I turn to find a man, likely in his eighties, staring at me with sympathetic eyes. I take a quick glance past him and take note of the two or three other men who’d also come lend a hand.

“That would be great,” I whisper. He gets the bougie new stroller’s lever-handle-doohickey mechanism in one motion, like he’s done it for decades. He snaps the two pieces together, and as I lay my sweatshirt on the wet seat and place the baby inside, he whispers, “God bless you mothers, you go through enough.” I look up and tell him thank you. He squints a smile from under his worn UT hat. If feels like a massively underwhelming thing to say.

I’d rather tell him, and the leathery couple who got my bag, and the Gen Zer who tucked us in, and the seatmate from our first leg who played us “Cocomelon” from her phone, and the TSA lady who held Andi while I put my shoes on, that they are how I know the world is still good. That I know they make up most of humanity. That just because their acts are quiet, doesn’t mean they don’t resound. That I don’t feel alone because of them, even when I am.

None of them stopped and first asked me who I voted for, what religion I cling to, my opinion on the Dobbs decision, how I feel about the ice caps, or whether I’ve been boosted. Because in solid reality of the flesh and blood real world, we still hold each other dear. Our humanity is what we share in common. And it is by far enough.

I read a mantra a few days back that said,

“If you feel like everyone hates you, take a nap.

If you feel like you hate everybody, eat something.

If you feel like everybody hates each other, go outside.”

I think that last bit is especially true. I know it, and you know it. We all know it, but somehow we still forget so easily to just put it all down and go outside.

Or in our case, go flying with a toddler.

3 responses to “To the Gen Zer in Seat 31D”

  1. This is so sweet! Had me tearing up remembering a flight I took to visit my sister in Pennsylvania… alone with 4 year old Nolan and 2 year old Camille in tow, just a mere 9 months after 911. The kindness shown to me by strangers was so heartwarming. You’re a beautiful, talented writer and artist! I Love you!

    Like

    • I can’t even imagine doing 2 alone! It really is a refresher in humanity to travel with your kids. People go above and beyond, often people you’d last expect it from! Thank you for your sweet words. I love and miss you!

      Like

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