1. She was a masseuse in Italy. We were on a short flight from Florence to France when she told me she was on her way to Kansas City. I looked at her, shocked, and said, “Me too.” She told me she grew up there, but she moved to Florence after college to become an artist. I guess that didn’t go so well, but she stayed there nonetheless — she hadn’t been back to Kansas in nine years. When I asked her what she was most excited about, she responded, “Just home.”
2. There was this family sitting right next to me in the terminal — an older couple and their grandkid. The woman kept making eye contact with me and smiling, and I feel guilty now because I was too exhausted to smile back. Her grandson talked about all the time he’d been on an airplane and it didn’t take long to realize this kid had been more places than I ever had — and probably ever would — and he was only seven. What would it be like to see the world before you could even understand it?
3. She’d been visiting my hometown the same time I was. Her daughter was in a symphony there. We were both on our way to Philadelphia and somehow we started talking about our travels. She told me that when she was my age, she used to live in France; it was the best decision of her life. She was in her seventies now and couldn’t remember much about her time there, but she was taking French classes again. When I asked her why, she smiled. “So I can go back to the place I left my heart.”
4. He was an opera singer. I only knew because I couldn’t stop asking him questions when we were stranded, alone, in a German airport at 3 a.m. We were both moving to Italy for the exact same timeframe, which seemed like fate to me. I saw him at the airport in Florence, too, sitting with his giant brown suitcase next to the baggage claim. I thought about asking for his number — by the way he watched me, I think he wanted me to — but I chickened out. Sometimes I still wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t.
5. She couldn’t speak English. She was from somewhere in Africa, though I can’t remember where anymore. I tried to help her find her terminal using gestures, and when she seemed to understand, she rested her hand on my arm and smiled warmly. I lost her in the crowd, but when I boarded the plane an hour later, she was sitting in the seat right next to mine. The smile she gave me was radiant. I’ll never know much about her, but I’ll always remember her fondly.
6. I was standing in line at the information desk in Copenhagen when I heard the family behind me talking in Italian. The mother was fretting because she didn’t know if anyone who worked there spoke Italian and only her young son knew any English. “I’ll help you, Mamma,” he said in his muddled, little-kid Italian. “You just have to go up and say…” He paused, then finished the sentence in clear English: “Mamma mia, what a pizza!” I couldn’t stifle my laugh, and the family looked at me, surprised. But the boy just turned to his parents with a knowing look. “See? What did I tell you?”
7. The last time I flew I sat next to a man who seemed angry. We didn’t really talk. He kept his eyes glued to a magazine and grumbled when the flight attendant accidentally spilled water on his shirt and pretended like I wasn’t there at all. But when I opened the window to watch as we passed by a lightning storm, I noticed the way he peeked over my shoulder, glancing at the sky as it flashed brilliantly, explosively. Even he couldn’t ignore something so beautiful.