When I sat down in my window seat on Jet Blue’s midnight flight from Albuquerque to New York the other night, I wondered who would be sharing the row with me. There had been an interesting assortment of people in the waiting lounge: old Hippie types (there are lots of them in New Mexico); a group of very fit older men and women who had just competed in 2019 National Senior Games,(I was told this by a wiry man who assumed I was part of their group); touristy people in shorts and baseball caps; several Muslim families with children (the moms in casually covering outfits but all with brightly colored heads scarves, plus an older woman in elegant black); and assorted other night-flighters.
Two people arrived and sat in my row. Next to me, that older woman dressed head-to-toe in a flowing black dress which had patterns on it of small jet beads, simple but elegant. Her hair, of course, was covered with a black scarf. And a man who looked to be around fifty. Waiting for us on our seats were little pouches containing Jet Blue’s bow to night flights- earplugs and a sleep-mask. The woman picked it up turned to me as if asking, “what is this?” I gestured plugging ears and covering eyes. She smiled and sat down.
As soon as they settled in, the man turned to me and in very good English opened a pleasant conversation to which I immediately responded and we got into talking. Turned out he is her son. They are from Jordan. They had been attending a big family wedding at the Sandia Pueblo Resort. He’s traveled many places in Europe and in Asia. I have traveled some places in Europe and Asia but mainly in Latin America. He’s never been to Latin America. She told him to tell me that I should visit Jordan and see Petra. I said I hoped to some day.
We talked travel. We talked food. (We had a good time with food.) And then he asked me, “Where are your people from?” And I replied “My mother’s family came from Hungary to United States in the 1860s. My father was born in Lithuania and came when he was four.” And then I added “I am Jewish.” He nodded, turned to his mother, and translated that bit of information.
We continued talking. Then we tried to sleep. None of us could sleep much. I guess I did sleep a bit, because when I woke up, they had switched seats and he was next to me. So, at some point, over Virginia according to the small screen on the seat in front of him tracking our plane’s flight, we gave up trying to sleep and he and I continued talking.
We talked about how difficult it is to sleep sitting up on an airplane. We looked at the rising sun together. We talked about how people on this planet form a large and beautiful garden with many kinds of flowers. He said God has created a beautiful place and beautiful people. We talked about how there must be peace. We all agreed that we must stop hating and killing each other. I even got to use my one word of Arabic: šukran (thank you)
When we landed at JFK, from the front of my backpack I unpinned a red button emblazoned in white letters with the words Choose Love.I handed the button to the woman who took it with delight and immediately pinned it on her black dress, nestled among the jet beads. She smiled at me. Her son smiled at me. As it was morning and we all were facing journeys into where we were headed: me, just to the subway to get back to Manhattan and they, a three hour drive to family in Connecticut, I gave them a couple of small coffee candies which they popped into their mouths. I said, “I hope you get to Connecticut safely.” The woman then rooted around in her large, black leather hand bag and pulled out a pen and gave it to me, nodding and smiling.
Sukran Choose love. Give it, receive it, return it. Thank you.