Ever since I started flying alone I have enjoyed making conversation with strangers on my flights. We exchange a little bit of our humanity, say what it is we want to say about ourselves, laugh some, and leave out huge gaps of our existence that don’t make the cut at 35,000 feet.
During these instances, you share a portion of yourself – whoever it is you wish to reveal that day – to make the unsettling experience of traveling hundreds of miles per hour several miles above the surface of the Earth a bit more comfortable. Normal even.
After a flight where I engage in conversation with one of my seat mates, one of us typically makes a point of wishing the other well on the other side of the hangar doors. Some version of “good luck to you.” I have always found this strange. Partly, because I have never quite been sure what it is I am communicating in that moment. I wish you good health? Good fortune? Future happiness?
And if so, in those cases I don’t like to think of those things as needing luck. Just hard work. And – if needed – a little mercy. Perhaps because luck is not something I wanted wished upon me and my family.
Last month, on a flight back to Boston I made friends with my neighbor in 17C. On this particular day, I was a recent transplant to Utah, living with my boyfriend, and reading an anthropological account of marriage. I was not going home to visit my dad this who is in the process of getting better. I was not going to make sure he hadn’t lost weight. I was not going to gauge his strength. And so, I needed no luck.
My seat mate was going home, too. He was traveling to see his girlfriend and their new baby. He missed them. But he did not want to get married. Or at least any type of service with a cake and registry. He just wanted to be happy. And that was alright with me.
“Safe drive home,” I told him.
“You too,” he said.
It felt less final. More of what you say to old friends or family upon parting.
Growing up, it was custom in mine to say, “Call and hang up when you get in. Just let me know you got home,” upon late night departures. Inevitably you would not hang up. You would wait for someone to hold the line and say goodnight between yawns.
On this trip home I went walking with my parents. My mom held Bella’s leash. My dad used hiking poles. We bumped into another man in the process of getting better. He was walking his dog too. The men traded treatment stories. Talked about options. But mostly they laughed.
In the morning I watch my mother wash my dad’s hair. She takes care to avoid his stitches. He wraps his arm around her back as some of his hairs collect in the kitchen sink. They are talking. He is smiling. I find I am too. In the afternoon I watch him using free weights in the living room. He looks strong. He looks the same. He is my dad.
Later, when my parents drop me off at the airport I kiss them on their faces. My mom is at the wheel. My dad gets my luggage out of the car. They both thank me for coming. My dad does not say safe flight. He does not say good bye. He just tells me he is getting better before getting back in the car.
“I know,” I say turning towards the airport doors.
And it feels right.