Occasionally, I have moments of mindfulness when I clearly see the meaning in the stories of my life.
Our 3 AM taxi left the Theater District hotel amid slushy rain. At LaGuardia my 13-year-old son and I met friends; Laurie, pregnant, her 11-year-old son and terrier who we had come to watch at Westminster, Laurie’s mother and Vikki. We struggled with the not so self-check-in, walked barefoot through security, found our gate, boarded the aircraft, and began an existence of waiting.
Slush turned to ice. We transferred from seated waiting to line waiting, rebooking and competitive hotel acquisition. A call to my husband had Duncan and I a nearby room with the “stranded traveler” discount price of 150 dollars. We were made to understand however, that unlike the luxurious Manhattan accommodations to which the terrier had become accustomed, this hotel with the strange odor and eerie slanting hallways, did not welcome dogs.
In the airport the next morning, there were upon my count, a bazillion people, most of whom seemed not to have noticed the previous day’s storm and behaved as though every other person was an obstacle to overcome.
Then there was the unforeseen matter of the planes getting stuck to the gates like a child’s tongue on a frozen tetherball pole.
Eventually landing in Minneapolis we rushed to wait in another line behind those who on our once through flight to Missoula, now told they had “missed” their connection, were mechanically repeating, “How could I have missed a flight that I was on?”
Within four hours our pregnant friend, her mother, son and dog left for home. Booked standby on a late night flight, Vikki, my son and I shopped, ate and I drank until time to leave.
My optimism waned when I heard our gatekeepers call for giving up seats on the overbooked flight. My charismatic friend was not booked standby after all instead having a confirmed first class seat. Feeling sorry for myself at what was clearly a random universe, I unraveled.
She boarded the plane. I called my husband in despair. Looking up through the blur of tears, as in a dream, behind me stood my authoritarian graduate school professor and running down the concourse were several of my colleagues and students on the last leg of their trip abroad. Was this a nasty metaphor for my life? I became invisible.
Our luggage dearly departed, we were living out of small packs containing plastic baggies of contact solution. I was certain we would soon be homeless.
Lost in hating the world and everyone in it as I waited again to determine if we could fly out the following day, I heard my name.
My friend who, resting in the most comfortable place she’d had in three days, and on her way to sleeping in her own bed, had given up her seat to be with us.
In that lived moment, I knew I am never alone. In her one entirely selfless act, I understood what it means to be fully present with others. I recalled the words a young woman recently wrote in her own obituary, “My life has been defined by and has meaning through the company I have kept.”
I have come to believe that my life is measured not in time but in relationships. In each moment, with each person I happen across for years or an instant, I make the existential choice to keep good company and to be good company. And in so doing, I author my life’s story and with it, meaning.
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