Sitting next to someone on an airplane can sometimes be awkward. Do you want to talk. Would you prefer to zone out in your secure bubble contained between your armrests, headset firmly on. You were late 40s, 5 o’clock shadow, and looked decidedly friendly (after a surreptitious side glance). So, I ventured out and tested the waters, as I’m a chronic hater of awkward silences.
So is Perth home or holiday destination for you?
Neither! You replied, amiably. You were en route to Broome to work offshore on the ships out that way.
And so I latched on to the cheery but safe subject, prattling on about how much I love Broome, and the conversation meandered agreeably to talk about travelling and bucket lists, so on and so forth. We spoke about our occupations, the bits we like, the bits we find challenging. The conversation flowed effortlessly to and fro, both refreshingly interested in each other’s life experiences and opinions.
Then inevitably we started speaking about family. You’d mentioned a son and a daughter previously so I not-so-cleverly inferred that you had two children. You paused ever so slightly, then said yes. I noted the pause but callously soldiered on. After more questions you volunteered that your eldest son passed away four years ago. We nodded commiseratively together but I didn’t delve, I could hear the pain heavy in your voice. The attention turned my way. And for the first time ever because of your honesty and compelled by the way you spoke with both feeling and calm bravery, I was able to say and acknowledge to a stranger that I had two older brothers. But that I lost one last year.
You understood. You understood why I had to stop speaking at that point. Although you didn’t say much, your compassion and sympathy were apparent. Your sentences became cropped, your voice thick with emotion. You told me that family is everything. You told me that things do get better.
And I believe you. You’ve been there. In fact, you’re still there.
Thank you, John. I might never see you again but thank you all the same from the bottom of a torn but healing heart.