As I was taking off from the Denver International Airport the other day I was glued to the window-watching planes taking off, landing, taxiing around the runway and unloading. I was thinking about the stories of all of the people on board those planes- where are they going? who are they with? what do they do? Each plane, each tiny house that gets smaller as the plane ascends into the heavens, all of the cars filled with people—they all have a story.
Gazing out the window I was thinking about my interaction with another passenger at the airport. A Latino woman, clearly frazzled and exhausted, had collapsed into the seat next to me at the gate. She was fidgety and nervous and yet so exhausted that her movements were fairly lethargic. This contradictory mental/emotional state is one that made complete sense to me, as I too have been both so exhausted that I don’t want to move and yet so excited/nervous about something that my body can’t help but to twitch and spasm.
Soon after she sat down the bench seat I was on started bouncing. I was rocked out of my quasi-slumber and, looking down, I saw that the lady next to me was vigorously shaking her legs and feet. This unconscious movement of hers was so severe that my seat was visibly rocking back and forth. It was at this point that I noticed that we had the same pair of Pumas on. So, being the sophisticated and well-spoken member of society that I am, I blurted out “Hey! We have the same shoes! Cool!...” and immediately felt like a complete fool. One does not simply blurt out ones every thought, and yet I seem to do this on a regular basis. Luckily for my ego, the woman cheerfully laughed and we were able to strike up a comfortable conversation.
A spanish teacher at the school I am attending, this woman loved to travel, had children and a husband who was passionate about music, had much to say, and many things in common with me. I learned that traveling to Europe was remarkable, easy, cheaper than expected, and would change my life. I learned that I need to see the French film Amelie, and that I should embrace the freedom that I have at this time. We chatted easily for the remaining forty-five minutes before our plane arrived.
In this time I couldn't help but wonder what would happen if only we could focus on the similarities between ourselves and others—if looking into different cultures didn’t bring out the strange music and customs, but rather the similarities in spirit, goals and dreams. If only looking into something quite different didn't only show the obvious differences but also the hidden similarities: sometimes as mundane as the same shoes.
After getting onto the plane and into my seat, my eyes settled on the view from the window. I saw workers, pilots, flight attendants, and the occasional glimpse of passengers hopping on planes. Something drew my attention back to the inside of the plane and I looked up just as the woman I had so easily befriended walked by. “Have a good flight” seemed somehow too cheesy, “thank you for our conversation” seemed too awkward, so instead I simply smiled and nodded at her as she walked by. As she returned the smile and hastened to her own seat I was reminded of the ultimate goal of most people: the desire to return home and the often overwhelming need to feel the security and acceptance of family and friends. A security that one can find only in a place called home.