Feet Off the Ground
Updated: Jan 30
On the plane at London Gatwick, I mentally prepared myself for the long flight ahead, sending final texts to people in the UK, and making a call before putting the phone into flight mode. A woman came and dropped down in the seat beside me, shoving her full rucksack into the space in front of her. She seemed agitated, hasty, as she rummaged around for her headphones. We settled into our seats, me by the window, she in the middle, and a Chinese man in the aisle. She immediately directed her attention to the screen in front to look at what films were on offer. I started reading my book.
We didn’t talk for the first half of the flight, but we had 8 hours ahead of us, so plenty of time to connect if we were meant to. I slept a bit, which was a welcome relief after a very short night before leaving for the airport on the shuttle bus early in the morning.
Midway through the flight, both my neighbour and I took the opportunity to go to the loo when the guy in the aisle seat got up. On returning to our respective places, we started talking, first about the length of the trip, then where we were from, and what we did to fill our days. Soon we were moving onto deeper things -- life decisions, relationships, cultural differences…. We ended up talking for about 3 hours! It certainly made the time pass quickly!
Her name was Erica. 'With a ‘c’ . When she said her name it made me think of my childhood friend who now lives with her family in Seattle and spells her name with a ‘k’.
Erica was from Brazil, but had been living in the UK for almost 2 years. ‘How have you found it?’ I asked her. ‘Hard’, she said. She missed her country, the warmth of the climate, as well as the people and strong sense of community. She missed hugs and personal touch. She was finding it a challenge to make friends in her new home in Guildford. I wondered why she wasn’t in Brazil anymore, but she said there was really no future for her and her partner there, and he liked it in the UK. We talked about deep things, some personal. It surprised me, in a way, yet at the same time it seemed a very natural thing.
After our snack lunch and notification of our landing in 20 minutes, Erica and I both commented on how fast the time had gone. I mentioned how nice it was to meet her and that she was welcome to get in touch if she had time to meet in Niagara on her week-long work trip.
‘That was a bit of a soul-bearing session, wasn't it!’ I said as I got up to get my bag.
’I've missed that, to be honest,’ she said. That really struck me.
I stepped into the aisle with my coat and bag and we quickly got swept along towards passport control, and I reminded myself I must pull out my Canadian passport (not the Dutch one!).
I was thinking how interesting it was that we tend to share openly with people we don’t know, and sometimes more than with people we do.
I walked out of passport control still thinking about it, feeling I had learned something about myself, the culture I come from and find myself in; I felt a sense of my worldview having expanded just a little bit. Had I kept my nose to the window, or in the book, I might not have experienced the greater space beyond culture and comfort to which my mind and sensitivities had been directed.
There are these little glimmers into people’s lives. Deep things come out in the literal space between places. For a while our feet are off the ground and there is a kind of freedom to speak, to share. Why do we do it? Maybe it’s because we know we likely won’t see the person anymore, it’s less of a risk, and in an odd way, that makes us feel ‘safer’. Maybe it's the anonymity combined with the need to talk and for some kind of connection.
At the baggage claim in Toronto airport, a woman comes up to me asking if we’re at the correct conveyor belt for luggage from London Gatwick. I tell her it’s the right one. We stand and wait. Eventually I ask her where she is from, as I detect an English accent.
‘Well, I’m from England…. I miss England….’ she says, ‘But my children and grandchildren are here, so this is where I live.’ She looks sad. We talk a bit more and before we know it her suitcase is approaching on the belt. I help her get it off. Soon after, I see mine, grabbing it before it does another round. I wish her all the best with her family in Canada and say good bye before stepping through the arrivals gate to meet my parents who are there waiting for me with beaming faces.
Erica steps up beside me in that moment and I introduce her to them - the familiar people in my life.
'You look like your Mom' she says.
Hmm. Maybe I do.
She looks for her lift to the hotel, I give her a hug, and my parents and I walk away with my suitcase into the crowd, chattering about the flight, the weather, and the days ahead.