(A soliloquy for 10A and 10B, on the occasion of the three and a half hours we spent confined together in the early hours of a morning flight from Sacramento to Chicago.)
I don’t know you, 10A, nor do I know your friend, 10B, though certainly I feel that I do, three and a half hours into the shared conversation.
I know, 10B, that your son is about to receive an unexpected quilt, and that 10A worked hard to assuage your fears about its delivery.
And I am sure you did not realize, as you talked loudly over the engines, that bearded lanky 10C next to you was asleep or, at least, trying to be, mouth agape early in the 6 a.m. halflight. Nor that much of the rest of the plane was asleep as well, the result of being at the airport for five and wading through airport security.
And when we passed over the perfect green circles of the irrigation system fields in the sere brown Midwest, I’m sure you did not mean to awaken me, in 9A, by poking me with sharp fingernails as you tried, inexplicably, to realign my seat somehow from behind.
Nor, 10B, did you give any thought before loudly exclaiming “Utah” for no particular reason, except that the clouds had cleared and beneath us was a spine of mountains and a vast bowl plain of sedgebrown soil, even if you’d missed that state’s passage long before.
Far be it for those engines, so intent on keeping us aloft, to interrupt your discussion, or to interrupt your sharing of that discussion with us all.
On the other side of the seat, I wonder if that is an elbow or a knee you are driving into my back: I only feel the shape of it imprecisely, the way you might watch a limb from a near-term baby arise and subside through the belly of the mother-to-be.
I peered back through the seats imploringly, just to let you know that you are not alone, but all I saw was slices of 10B, the kind of glimpse I have been having for the last few weeks of livestock when the rattling metal trucks pass by — slivers of the dirty sides of beef cattle, the occasional porcine snout.
Then, 10A, you had to fight with the recalcitrant purse, packed so, so tightly beneath my seat, a trial requiring Herculean effort and even more loud discussion.
And that, all that, only got me as far as Chicago, halfway across a continent in the way we travel when we do, packed so tight that there are occasionally moments when you feel like you might either have to force yourself through the pack of people or quite literally explode.
And I know that airplane travel is only one small and pretty rare piece of life, but it illustrates something that so many of us seem to have forgotten: that we are not alone in our everyday lives, and that we should always be aware that we are just one among many, and not always the centre of all attention.
Remember in all things that there are two sides to every seat, and choosing to believe otherwise doesn’t make strangers any less real.
Has it really become so difficult for us to imagine ourselves in someone else’s shoes?
Common courtesy: so easy, so straightforward, yet such a fleeting thing.
And 10B, despite your concerns, I’m sure your son will love the quilt. Or at least have the decency to say he does.