Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Strangers Over a Rainbow

On the flight to Shannon and Dan’s wedding in Florida, we flew over a rainbow.  “Look!”  said Caitlin, the little girl sitting beside me.  “A rainbow!” 

I’d spotted Caitlin almost immediately when Dave and I arrived at La Guardia Airport in New York.  As we waited in line at Jet Blue to get our boarding passes, she caught my eye because of her outfit.  “Precocious,” I thought, and I feel sheepish admitting to being so judgmental, even of a young girl, but her black fingerless gloves and matching nail polish, camouflage pants, off-the-shoulder shirt, and bandana seemed a bit much for a freckle-faced strawberry blond of ten or so.  “Eleven,” she would later correct me.  She was accompanied by an attractive older blond woman, her grandmother, I later learned, who appeared to be flummoxed by the self-possessed girl in her care.

Once at the gate, Dave and I joyfully greeted Chris and John, long-time friends who were going to the Florida wedding as well.  We settled in to wait having heard the forecast of thunderstorms and been informed of a half-hour delay.  With surprise, I noticed that the little girl and her grandmother were seated nearby.  An attractive woman with coppery curls also drew my admiring glance.  In the eighties, I spent significant dollars hoping to coax my lifeless hair into just such body and volume.

When our flight was announced, Dave, Chris, John, and I gathered our bags and proceeded to the tube connecting the plane to the gate.  As we edged closer to the door to the plane, Dave slowed to offer a hand to a young mother – a beautiful babe of a young mother – who was grappling with several hefty bags and two small boys.  Dave is wonderful about going beyond registering a need and doing something to help where I tend to take note in a vague way and wander on.

As I wandered on, Dave grasped the biggest of the mom’s bulky bags and we inched down the aisle of the plane, Chris and John taking seats in row 10, as we continued past rows 20, 21, 22…searching for 25 and finding it to be the back row.  The very back row.  The row by the restrooms.  The row with seats that recline an inch or so only. 

I stowed my suitcase in the overhead compartment and slipped into the seat by the window.  The babe of a young mother stood in the aisle and smiled at me.  I smiled back.  “Would you mind changing seats?” she asked.  “”My son would be across the aisle and he’s only five.”

“No problem.  Of course,” I said, grabbing my carry-on and sliding back into the aisle and into my new seat. 

In the flurry of that quick exchange, I did not review the implications for Dave, that my move would leave him in the three-seat row with two little boys.  He is great with kids, the best man for the job, but the three-hour ride would not be serene for him.  Luckily, as I’ve said, the mom was a babe.

As it happened, my center seat across the aisle was next to the woman with coppery curls; Frani was her name. The last person to board the plane grinned at me as she nudged past into the window seat to my left: Caitlin, the girl with the black fingerless gloves.  She flashed a card on a string that hung from her neck and said, “Junior Crew Member.  I’m traveling alone.  Last one on; last one off.”

Turned out, for this flight at least, the last row was the place to be.  Caitlin was chatty and endearing, and I silently thanked God for another reminder, for I’ve had many, to avoid hasty judgments.  Together, Caitlin and I watched a trailer for “Despicable Me 2” and raved about the first version.  She told me she loved pirates and we were as one in our love for Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow.  We also discovered a mutual enthusiasm for Halloween, and when I said I am always a witch, she totally outdid me in listing a variety of costumes from years past – the Corpse Bride, a gypsy, a ghost, and of course, a pirate.  “I had chains and skulls and stuff, a bunch of old-looking keys hanging from my belt, a cool ring.  Everything.”

While Caitlin watched a cartoon on the screen on the seat back before her, I turned to Frani, she of the coppery curls.  She was a year younger than I am and in short order, we covered menopause, sleep issues, anxiety, our interests, work, and relationships.  Ah, strangers.  Invariably we have so much in common. 

While turning fifty steered me toward volunteering at Mercy Learning Center and writing, Frani left a career in advertising and now works in integrative health advocating the uses of essential oils.  “My mother uses them all the time,” Caitlin chirped up.  “If I get a headache or stomach ache, she rubs them on the bottom of my feet.”

Frani slid a zippered pouch from her carry-on and opened it to reveal small vials of oils.  “Lea says she’s anxious and has a hard time sleeping,” Frani said to Caitlin.  “Which samples do you think would be best for her?”  Perhaps she was just being kind to include the child in choosing, but Caitlin thought a moment and said, “’Serenity’, definitely, and maybe ‘Past Tense’?” 

Frani gave me a wide-eyed look that acknowledged the girl’s accuracy then nodded at Caitlin.  “You know your stuff.”

“Like I said, my mom uses them all the time.”

“An old soul,” Frani whispered.

Meanwhile, an elephant was making a lot of noise across the aisle.  Dave was entertaining the two boys, forcing air between his pressed lips, pretending to be a pachyderm.  Jesse, the five year old, joined in gleefully, adding a swinging arm movement to simulate the animal’s trunk.  The babe-of-a-mom looked at me and mouthed of my husband, as many have before her, “He’s amazing.”  Then, she noticed Frani’s satchel of samples.  “Ohhhh.  Essential oils!  I use them all the time.  Lavender?  Omigod.  Love it.”

Really?  Here I am in a row of oils enthusiasts and they’ve never crossed my radar. 

Thunderstorms, however, were on the radar, and the plane began to buck in turbulence.  As we shuddered and swayed, Caitlin asked calmly, “What’s all this about?” 

“Storms.  Wind,” I said.  “Not a problem.”

She looked out the window at soaring mounds of water vapor, towering turrets, lumbering beasts, great sails of clouds, and that’s when she saw it.  “Look!  A rainbow!” 

At first, I missed it because it was below us, an arched gateway of yellow, red, and green.  A wonder, it was.  “You know the song?”  I said.  “Somewhere Over the Rainbow?  We are there!  Over the rainbow!”  It was an omen, surely, of a joyous marriage ahead for Shannon and Dan, and also, “Florida’s welcoming me home,” Caitlin said. 

I have to marvel at the workings of the Universe.  Among those at La Guardia scanning Kindles, tapping iPads, and the odd fellow reading a book, I’d spotted coppery curls and a girl in fingerless gloves.  And then, they came to me, and together, we flew over a rainbow. 

When the plane touched down in Sarasota, those in the back row, the furthest row back, the row tight to the restrooms, slapped each other five and crowed, “Best row ever!”