Now Boarding: Love & Life at 35,000 ft.

KL 6058 MSP-AMS

I’ve long had a personal motto, backed by the appropriate attitude and actions, that when things get tough, the tough get the hell out. It was in no way surprising, then, that I found myself on a plane to Amsterdam, just a few months after returning from Germany and assuredly just a few moments from an emotional breakdown.

“Now boarding KLM flight 6058 to Amsterdam”

This could not have come at a better time.

At this particular point in my life, I simply did not want to live my life. Don’t misunderstand — I loved living. I loved life. I did not, though, want to live mylife. I wanted to be living a different life. I wanted to be someone else, living somewhere else, doing something else.

So I did what any self-respecting, lazy and entitled twenty-something would do and ran (or flew, as the case may be) far away from reality. I regularly swapped identities with that of a person who could afford the jet set lifestyle I was purporting to live. I couldn’t afford it then, but I made a point of doing it until I really couldn’t afford it anymore.

SFO-TPE

Walking onto a long-haul flight has always held some excitement. The expansive cabin, extended leg room, free drinks — all excellent. But at the root of what draws me is likely the anticipation of rapidly moving toward a new time, a foreign destination, a different opportunity. It was the closest I could come to changing while staying the same; the easiest way to escape life while still living it.

I boarded KLM flight 6058 to find that my seat mate, 35A, was larger than life. This was an observation that turned out to be true in a sense that you will appreciate at the end of this story, but at this point, I will simply admit that he was a large man, occupying part of my seat in addition to his. Seated nearby (obviously, in a sense) was 34B who was handsome in all ways and destined to look young far beyond his youth had ended.

Each a solo traveler, 35A and 34B were separated by a small space in the aircraft but connected by a huge destiny. Kind and silent 34C was across our aisle, similarly faced with a future that she was designing at that very moment, during that very flight.

To round out the scene, seated next to and behind these gentlest of gentlemen and sweet soul 34C, was a gassy and intoxicated pessimist: 35B.

That was me.

35A’s raison d’être was his fiancé, the unquestionable love of his life, whom he had never met before in person. They talked, for hours upon hours. They fell in love. End of discussion and beginning of a life.

He believed in this love, their future together. Naturally, he was on his way to London to ask for her hand in marriage.

34B, too, was on his way to London. 34B, too, was going to propose to the love of his life. Oh — and 35A and 34B shared more than an excitement that day and anticipation over tomorrow — they both happened to also be from the same small town in the United States of Somewhere.

Will they say ‘Yes’?” I asked. They didn’t know. They hoped so.

Will you stay in England?” I asked. They didn’t know. They didn’t care.

There was little certainty in their answers, save a single message that permeated the conversation: nothing mattered as long as they were in love with the one they loved. They believed in their love-bound destinies more than I had believed in anything in my life.

We drank to their love, to their future, and to the past that brought them here. (We drank a lot, to be fair.)

Pixabay via DariuszSankowski

Now we meet 34C, who was also on a journey of love, a journey of a lifetime. The thing about 34C was that she hadn’t spent much of her life traveling. She admitted to not having spent much of her life living. Her very “being” had fallen by the wayside, she explained.

Recognizing the life 34C had come to live — or not, as the case was — her father gave her the gift of a lifetime, delivered in death. She described her surprise (an incredible reprieve from her grief) as she read her father’s last will and testament and his instruction that a portion of his ashes be scattered across the seven continents. This was to be done by her, and her alone.

It was this final request that put 34C on KL 6058, the first international flight of her life. From Amsterdam, she would travel on to Johannesburg. She had officially begun her three-year journey to fulfill her father’s wishes, and finally launch her life in the process.

Countless flights and a lifetime of travel separate me now from this flight, from these people. But I shared a moment in time with 35A, 34B, and 34C, hurdling across the Atlantic, that I have never forgotten.

Stranded in a confined economy seat and surrounded by recycled air, our paths crossed in a way never possible on the ground in our day-to-day lives. Their stories and strength have come to define for me what it means to have a heart, and what it means to live your life. And it all started with: “Where are you headed?”

DIA Runway

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