Why you should never change your assigned seat on a flight
03.06.2011 - 04.06.2011 40 °C
The first 12 hours in the air were pretty average: I checked a few movies off my must-see short list, read the first few chapters of The Fountainhead until my eyes melted into the pages, and chatted with my Pakistani neighbor about political unrest in the region, and took a 7th inning stretch with some Californian doing hamstring stretches in the back of the cabin. By the end of the flight, I was strolling around the aisles so leisurely that one of the hostesses asked me if I was part of the crew. She was serious. Things didn't get exciting until we descended on Dubai, an artificial city made up of glass walkways suspended in mid-air, deliberately crooked skyscrapers, and a winding highway system crawling with titanium spaceships. It's a Brooklyn-shaped island, except the boats in the harbor are yachts and there are no Wesleyan students to be found (BAD JOKE). The international airport in Dubai fits the mold perfectly. It's basically a giant upscale mall. My neighbor told me I could spend the whole day shopping if I had a layover, but luckily for me I didn't have to torture myself with the overwhelming consumerist feel of it all because my next flight was off in less than two hours. Not to mention, Dubai's healthy supply of oil comfortably funds free public WiFi in all the terminals. That ate up my entire layover, even leaving a little room for dessert.
My next Emirates boarding experience was as efficient as the first. This time around, though, I happened to be seated next to a gregarious Indian middle-aged woman with glowing green marbles for eyes. She told me at once that she had been visiting her daughter in Dubai, and asked why I was headed to her homeland. When I told her I was studying in Rishikesh, she immediately chimed in, "Oh, that's close by my home. You must come visit. I have coffee parties with some German friends each week. They would be delighted to meet you, I'm sure". I was a little confused by her over-friendly nature, mostly because we were still too early into the flight to "use our portable electronic devices". What would she bring to the court for the halftime show? I figured that at the least this woman was just a motherly soul befriending someone the same age as her daughter who she had just left behind in the pseudo-reality of Dubai. Whatever her motives, she seemed warm enough so I started opening up a bit about the objectives of my yoga pilgrimage. "I do yoga every morning," she began. "When I was a girl I loved to be active. I would swim for hours to the point where the boys in my class called me Octopus,". She opened her palms to indicate the fingertip pruning responsible for this less-than-flattering nickname. We chatted about the meditative, rehabilitative, and strength building aspects of yoga for a while, both admitting prior physical weaknesses that the ancient practice helped to strengthen. And then out of no where, "You were raised a Christian?", she probed. "I'd say more atheist," I responded hesitantly observing the red stain between her eyebrows. "To be honest I think I've developed into somewhat of an agnostic. Travelling's brought me into a few strangely cosmic situations I have a tough time attributing to chance alone. But I wouldn't say I believe in God, per se," I qualified. She responded that she agreed, and identified herself as "spiritual" above all. "Things happen for a reason. It's all predestined. Whether God predestined it or not I don't know. It seems irrelevant. But I too have experienced miracles that I would be foolish to ignore or brush off as coincidence,". The sudden change in her tone surprised me yet again. But I focused intently, for some reason with the feeling that she was about to say something important.
"You make choices," she continued, "but you are who you are from the beginning and thus you are destined to chose what you do. For this reason yoga is important. It teaches to be in the moment, to experience the present, to be within your skin and your body. They are deeply connected, as you know. So when you told me earlier this afternoon that you thought you might have left too early for this journey, in fact, you left at exactly the right time." I was fixated. "You miss your family and friends, but like a dove you've flown away and you will come back with a message. And if those relationships are genuine, they will be right where you left them when you get back, and you will be ready for them with your newly discovered knowledge. If they are not strong, they were not meant to last anyway. You must understand that none of this is under your control." It was like listening to some sort of prophecy, listening to a possible answer to all my pre-departure anxiety. As if she had not affected me enough, the wisdom kept flowing: "Yoga will quiet your mind. You are thinking too much. Thinking confuses things. Your confusion will confuse others. It's all quite simple if you allow it to be."
The conversation (more like a monologue actually) continued in this fashion as we soared over oil country, divulging the secrets of relationships and marriage, men and female dynamics in India, the struggles of bi-nationality, and methods of education. I chimed in every now and then, but mostly I was asking leading questions unintentionally. She responded fully and completely to each of my inquiries, feeding me her life's accumulated knowledge but with no pressure for me to adopt it as my own philosophy. Talking about serendipity during such a serendipitous discussion was bizarre. Eventually I expressed to her that this felt to me like one of those predestined moments, meant to shape me in some way. She sort of brushed off the comment, probably to avoid flattering herself. "I'm just a housewife. I watch Opera, Discovery, National Geographic, and the headlines occasionally,". You're more like Moses watching your staff part the Red Sea, I wanted to reply.
But before I knew it, the captain was on the load speaker announcing our proximity to 110-degree Delhi. [i]Octopus[\i] (rhymes with Moses) had successfully prophesied for the duration of the second leg of my trip. She gave me her window seat so that I could observe the sprawling city, and we sat in silence for the remainder of the ride chewing my Orbit gum and trying not to let our eardrums explode under pressure. Before getting off the plane, she tidily etched her address in my Moleskin journal and gave me a heartfelt hug goodbye. "See you in two months for coffee," I said sincerely.
"Yes," she replied with a smile. "Welcome to India."