I had not flown out of the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) in over a decade, but on this trip home with the kids, I did.
The moment we arrived at LAX, I began to regret it, and made a mental note not to, as much as I can, fly out of there again next time. It was sheer bedlam! I have to hand it to the PAL staff who face this crowd everyday, two times a day. Patience in action! At the counter, there were some issues with our baggage, as expected, and the flight was seriously overbooked. Plus, the plane had been downgraded to an Airbus.
The blessing came in the form of an upgrade to business class which of course made me very happy. I was so looking forward to stretching out and sleeping most of the way home. “I hope I get an interesting seat mate,” I told the kids before we went our separate ways.
Be careful what you wish or pray for…
My seat mate, a tall, dark fellow in his late 40s was seated in my seat, but he graciously moved back to his window seat when I arrived. Seeing that I was struggling with my carry-on, he offered to put it up in the bin. I said thank you, and we sat quietly for a while.
I could sense that he was sad, and although I was tired, I was really grateful for my upgrade, so I decided to chat him up.
Me: Are you from here or returning to Manila?
Seat mate: I’m just visiting.
Me : Oh. How long since you were last home?
Seat mate : 15 years
Seat mate : My sister died yesterday.
Me: I’m so sorry…
Seat mate : She got tired of life, so…
Me: I’m very sorry to hear that. How old was she?
Seat mate : 51
Me : Oh my God, that’s my age. (at this point I was starting to think about how there aren’t any coincidences in life, and when he realizes that I’m his sister’s age, his face lights up)
Seat mate : Wow, no accidents really.
Me: You know I’m a grief coach, and I only got upgraded that’s why I’m siting here.
Seat mate : Me too! My ticket was so expensive because I bought it yesterday only, so I guess naawa sila.
And from there the ice was broken, and for the next two hours, he told me about his life, and his sister’s life. How he was the last person she sent an email to, timing it so that he would read it after she was gone. He spoke about his regrets, and all the missed years. “I was the brother closest to her,” he said, “and the only one who supported her this last year.” So I told him that no matter how painful it was, he had done his very best for her.
Then he started to tell me about his son and how he worried that he might have clinical depression too. So I gave him the name and address of a psychiatrist friend whose practice was only 30 minutes away from where he lived.
The words of the poet Hafiz reverberated in my heart as I listened to his story, “The place where you are right now, God circled on a map for you.” Whatever chaos surrounds us, there is nothing really to fret or fear about for all things, baggage issues and bedlam, work together for the good for those who love Him. I now know I was meant to fly out of LAX that day.
Please say a prayer for my new friend, JB, and his family. It’s been a long journey home for him. We shook hands at the end of the flight and wished him well on his journey to his home province.
My encounter with him at the tail-end of a long and beautiful vacation, only reaffirmed, and rekindled my passion to continue doing what I do. It’s been a good break, and I thank God for bringing us all home safely.
See you all again soon.