what we hear when we listen

what we hear when we listen
photo by jill banach

photo by jill banach

As my mom and I boarded our plane, I sifted through my carry-on bag until I finally grabbed hold of my trusted headphones. No way I could get through this flight without them. I was looking forward to falling asleep and waking up when we landed in Boston. But, as luck would have it, the plane was packed—not a single empty seat. I guess we’d have to cozy up to some strangers for a few hours.

Before I could even shove my headphones in my ears and turn my head to the side, the woman began her chatter.

This is going to be a long flight.

Luckily, my mom was in the middle seat. I could potentially dodge this conversation.
(We both tend to be the same in situations like these—why would you ever talk to the person next to you on your flight? Aren’t we all tired? Can’t we all just make a pact to avoid interaction at all costs?).

But after faintly hearing this woman drone on and on, I noticed my mom seemed to be surprisingly interested in this one-sided conversation.

For the past few months, I had not been feeling like myself. I couldn’t seem to get out of my own way. I wasn’t sure when I would emerge from this funk, if ever. As I sat in the airplane chair, bogged down by my own daunting thoughts, something switched inside of me. I figured it couldn’t hurt to hear someone else’s thoughts, so I hesitantly removed my left ear bud and for the first time this flight, I listened.

It took no more than two minutes for me to become completely inspired.

In just a few short hours, we learned about her troubled childhood, disheveled home life, her teenage pregnancy, her daughter’s teenage pregnancy, the death of her husband. Maybe this is sharing too much to random people on a plane, but maybe that idea is an unnecessary judgment. My mom and I decided to embrace this woman’s words. There was a reason we were seated here.

As I listened intently, I was struck me was how incredibly grateful this woman was. Through her checkered past and countless sorrows, she made an commitment to always remain hopeful.

She spoke about her husband’s death from cancer, just four years prior. She was left as a single mom with three young children, struggling to make ends meet. But this is not the part she emphasized.

What she focused on was the celebration her family shares each year on the anniversary of her husband’s death. On that day, they make an assortment of his favorite dishes. The kids reminisce on their favorite memories of their father. They spend the day laughing, playing childhood board games, and finding thanks for all that he brought to their lives.

As the plane landed, the woman expressed how grateful she was to have met us and how she appreciated us listening to her story. If she only knew how much I needed to hear it—and how motivated I had become by her inspiring words full of hope, of love, of gratitude.

She could have given up. She could have let her tragedies outweigh her blessings. But she chose to be strong. How she decided to react to the events in her life will always serve as a reminder to me that we have the power to design our lives the way we want to live.

That woman boarded the plane as a stranger and left as our friend, and certainly someone I will never forget. Had I never given her the chance to explain, I would never have known all that was behind her welcoming and easy smile.

After the flight, as we walked through the bustling airport, I couldn’t help but be intrigued by every person walking passed. The airport allows for a great metaphor that we’re all on our own journey. We are all going someplace for a reason.

This woman may never know how much perspective she gave me that day and how her attitude helped me to progress through my own seemingly trivial struggles, but that’s the beauty of the so-called “random” people you meet along your journey. Sometimes these are the people that provide you with the most insight. We intersect with those that will bring something valuable into our lives, and whether that reason is known to us or not, well that’s the fun in the mystery.

A lifestyle blog about veganism, mood swings, & other chatter.