After two days, two trips to the airport, two storms in Chicago, and two futile flights, I returned home tonight having missed Nina and Matt’s wedding in Minneapolis. You win some, you lose some when your mom’s a flight attendant and unfortunately today’s final verdict was a great loss to me. I had a new dress and new dancing shoes and was filled with the hopeful anticipation of sharing such an important moment with friends. Sitting at the gate envisioning the evening unfolding elsewhere, I held back tears as the monitor flashed “delayed.” Even the flight that would take me back to Louisville was late.
Hardly in a mood to chat, I barely noticed the guy sitting next to me when I claimed my seat in the tiny commuter plane. Maybe I didn’t even say hello. He offered me a piece of gum, motioning toward his ears and mentioning that they were wont to pop, but I refused it – politely – and opened my book.
That’s when I overheard the valley-girl behind me. I swear I don’t usually judge people for holding a happy conversation on a plane, but the girl repeated the word “yes” six times in a row, each time rising in volume, to indicate agreement. Six times. Go ahead, try stringing that many yeses together and see if you can even take yourself seriously. I looked up from my book, unintentionally manifesting my amazement.
“I know, now we don’t have to watch the movie, right? I was going to rent that tonight.”
I’m sorry, what? I looked at my neighbor for the first time, trying to grasp his reference.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” he said, catching my confusion. “You were reading. I was eavesdropping. They’re giving away the end of a movie.”
“Which one?” I asked, still a bit confused.
“I don’t know,” he said, shrugging.
“But…you were going to rent it?”
Oh. It was a joke. I smiled, laughing at myself more than anything. “Are you from Louisville?” I asked.
“From Lexington, lived in Louisville, now in Brooklyn.”
As if the word “Brooklyn” poured a spotlight on the man, new details jumped out at me. Brown square glasses, a red plaid shirt, and, resonating from bright blue eyes, something of a creative aura.
“So you’re an artist,” I said, without thinking.
“Yes, but we aren’t all artists in Brooklyn.”
“Let me guess what kind.”
I said “comic book artist.” He said, “Do I know you?”
Turns out he’s a freelance illustrator named Jason whose day job pays the bills and whose creativity comes alive in the after-hours, when he draws, performs his own stand-up comedy routine, and DJ’s. He came to New York on a shoestring and hunted down jobs – any jobs – until he had enough financial security (and peace of mind) to start building a portfolio and selling his comic-style illustrations. “Creativity is killed by stress,” he said. “So I have to have the day job to keep me from worrying about making rent.”
When the subject turned to my interests, he surprised me with a diverse knowledge of French culture. French DJ’s are what’s keeping the tradition alive, he said, before listing his favorite new wave film directors, from Godard to Truffaut, and going on about Woody Allen’s new Midnight in Paris.
“And, I found the best French café in Brooklyn,” he said, tapping my arm with the back of his knuckles as if we were old friends. “The guy makes the best Americanos.”
I wasn’t sure he had caught the irony of his own statement, so I said, “best Americanos, huh? That would be a cool one-liner for your comedy routine.”
He approved of the joke, which gave me quite a bit of satisfaction for having almost come up with it myself.
Then I told him about missing Nina’s wedding. At first he thought I was kidding until I insisted that I actually had flown to Chicago, walked from gate to gate all day, and then gotten on this flight home. But he wouldn’t let me beat myself up about it.
“Que sera sera,” he said. “Everything happens for a reason.”
I still couldn’t see anything reasonable about this day unless it was to learn something from the present conversation, so that’s what I told him. His response? An altruistic commitment to pack the last fifteen minutes of the flight with a punch.
He made me smile.
He also made me feel comfortable to tell him I had been having certain fatalistic worries about the future, despite years of preaching optimism to everyone I know.
“Everyone is in that place some time,” he said. “But suffering strengthens.”
He didn’t say “don’t be discouraged,” or “don’t let yourself feel that way.” He just sympathized for a moment.
Then he smiled and, with the same energy that had carried this conversation the length of the flight, said, “Tom Petty says ‘most things I worry about don’t happen anyway.’ There is fear involved with every big decision, but things only really go wrong when you search for them to go wrong — when you say ‘I knew that was going to happen.’ Sure you did! You knew it was going to happen because you made it happen.”
Amen, brother. I vowed to walk the walk of optimism.
“How long have you been in New York?” I asked.
“Seven years. Imagine what you can do with seven years.”
Seriously! “I’ve got be more patient,” I sighed.
“Just do at least one thing every day that will help you get to your goal. And, do something drastic if you have to – something scary. You’ll see it’s not such a big deal in the end.”
As we approached Louisville, the awareness that I was landing in the wrong place, four hours too late continued to trouble me. But I also felt a weird sense of gratitude. Jason shook my hand and wished me luck and I sort of awkwardly told him about this blog. He promised to check it out.
When we exited the plane, I lined up with the other passengers to wait on the jet bridge for our gate-checked luggage. A few steps behind me, Jason walked through the middle of the aisle like Moses parting the Red Sea. His arms were open triumphantly as he held up his bag, which he had apparently smuggled on instead of checking.
“I got rid of the red [gate-check] ticket,” he called over his shoulder to me as he walked away.
“That’s not against the rules or anything!” I shouted.
I suppose, after all, that was his point.