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Outwardly Calm, Inwardly Turbulent

Outwardly calm, inwardly turbulent.  I took this pic from the window of an airplane yesterday. It was a beautiful, mild, spring day with blue skies and a spackling of fluffy white clouds. The sky looked calm and peaceful, yet the flight was riddled with turbulence. We were instructed by the pilot to stay buckled up as the plane rocked back and forth, up and down through the picture of serenity that I watched pass by through the airplane’s tiny windows.

Only a short time before the roller coaster ride of a flight began, I had been sitting at the crowded gate waiting for my turn to board. The voice from behind the ticket booth said in a muffled tone over the speaker, “1st class passengers, passengers with disabilities, those traveling with children under the age of 2 or active military are welcome to board now.” It is a great time for people watching. Since I always buy the cheapest ticket to get me from point A to point B, I’m normally in zone 4, last to board, and can be found seated no more than 4 feet from the crapper.  I sat and waited as all 120+ people boarded, one by one. I observed as some shoved their way through, as though there was a prize for being the 1st to get on the plane. I saw the ones with rambunctious kids I prayed I wouldn’t be seated near, the panicked person, the one who slows the line by oversharing with the man scanning boarding passes about when, where or why they are traveling despite his obvious disinterest of their unsolicited explanation, the vacationers in Nike shorts and the business people in suits with iPhones to their ears on conference calls. It’s a social experiment I always find entertaining.

This time, a young boy and his mother caught my attention. He was among the 1st in line. I noticed he was holding a carry-on bag and she was not. I also saw that she couldn’t quit touching him. Hug, back rub, hug, kiss on the cheek, hug. The ticket agent scanned the boy’s ticket. The teen then turned to give her one last hug and walked away.  The woman stood waving at him until he was out of her sight. She turned around, wiping tears, and walked back into the hustle-bustle of the airport. As a mom myself, my heart sank in my chest for her. I could feel her pain as she walked away without him…away from her protection…away from her reach.

As usual, I was among the last few to board the crowded plane. I walked to my seat all the way in the back, threw my laptop case into the overhead, and plopped down in my seat. I looked up and saw that the boy I had just observed at the gate was sitting next to me. He seemed uncomfortable. I make it a rule to immediately pretend to be in a coma-like state of consciousness the moment I buckle my seatbelt to help set the expectation to the traveler next to me that I’m not interested. This time, I couldn’t do that. “I saw you at the gate. Was that your mom? Are you okay?” He kept his head down, looked up at me by only moving his eyes, and shook his head yes. “You look 15. I can spot a 15-year-old because I’m a mom of a 15-year-old,” I continued. He finally lifted his head and laughed, “Yep, I’m 15.” I let him be for a while and sat quietly beside him.

We had a bumpy takeoff, which turned into a turbulent first half of the flight. I saw that he began fidgeting and rocking in his seat. “Is this your 1st time flying,” I asked him? “No, but it’s the first time I’ve flown by myself,” he replied. I started engaging him in conversation in effort to help distract him from his anxiety, much in the same way I do with my son when he’s about to get a shot at the doctor’s office. We talked about his dad that he was going to see in Michigan, what he wanted to do after high school and how his parents make him take choir at school even though he hates it. The plane finally found some smooth flying air and the knocking about stopped. Sam, I discovered was his name, seemed to relax and began playing a game on his phone for the rest of the flight. After we landed and walked off the plane, his dad was there waiting for him. Sam looked at me and said, “It was nice meeting you. Bye.” I smiled and nodded as we walked in separate directions within the airport.

Today, when I looked at this photo of the blue sky and thinking of the teenage boy with a wide smile, one wouldn’t guess the turbulence that was going on inside. The sky. Sam. His parent’s divorce.  His unhappiness at school.  Me. I think most all of us at some time or another. Sunny and warm on the outside, but deceivingly peppered with turbulence on the inside. Reminds me of how we are all not that different from each other.  Reminds me how human connection is sometimes all we need to relieve the turbulence. Reminds me to be kind. Reminds me that one day I will be in a zone 1 boarding group and those people will be turbulent too because all zones of people are.

But zone 1 still sounds nice.