Plane rides and life lessons

By Samara Abramson

I believe that nothing in life really matters unless you learn something from it – that’s why we spend the majority of our early years in school, isn’t it? So when going on a trip, isn’t there a debate about which aspect has more influence, the journey or the destination? It’s a question without an answer, an answer that is markedly longed for.

I started thinking about this on a trip I took with my family this past summer to Israel. My dad had been there many times before for both business and pleasure, so he was very excited to show us this country, our religious homeland. He had been working on a flawless itinerary for the past year. While the rest of us felt excited, there were also a lot of nerves. For example, I had never been outside of the United States and neither had my younger brother or sister. The farthest plane ride we had ever endured was to California, which is only about six hours from Boston. The plane ride to Israel was over 11.

On the afternoon of Aug. 19, my sister and I settled into the emergency exit row.

“Are you willing and able to assist other passengers in the event of an emergency?” the flight attendant asked my sister, Paige and I.

“Yes,” we answered in unison, nodding and smiling, ignoring the knots in both of our stomachs.

There was a third seat to the left of me and we both secretly hoped no one would sit down so that we could use it for extra storage. Although we were lucky enough to have an abundance of legroom, we were left with no place to store our carry-on bags except for the overhead compartments. The hope was unlikely, however, as rumors surfaced that the flight was crowded. Soon enough, a woman claimed the seat, and we were forced to sit with many belongings on our laps.

It’s important not to judge a book by its cover, although sometimes, when a movie is called “Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter,” for instance, it’s impossible not to make rash assumptions. Similarly, my sister and I both secretly disliked the woman before she even sat down next to us: she was making no sense, speaking quickly and shuffling around. She refused to sit down in her seat, and was standing next to the row behind us speaking to what appeared to be her two sons, at an annoyingly loud volume. Finally, she settled in.

About an hour into the flight, she inadvertently taught me that sometimes, the most fleeting interaction between two human beings could be the most powerful. I don’t really remember how my conversation with this woman began but after 11 hours and 33 minutes, I ended up learning a lot about her.

Originally from the Dominican Republic, she currently resides in a small city in New Jersey. She is constantly dragging her two sons, age 14 and 12, on trips she takes all over the world.

“Where else have you traveled to?” I asked, curious as to why she was even on a plane to Tel Aviv in the first place. The majority of the plane was full of travelers who appeared to be of Israeli descent or Hasidic Jews from somewhere in the U.S.

 

“Oh, we’ve been everywhere!” she exclaimed. “China, France, Spain, Italy, and I try to get to the Dominican every year to visit my mother.”

More than surprised, I was intrigued. I asked her why she does it, if her trips were business-related or whatnot. She simply replied, “I just love to travel.”

I don’t know about anyone else, but these are the types of people I read about – the ones in the movies. Never in my life had I met such an extraordinary human being.

My parents came to visit our row of the plane a few times, as they were sitting in a different section. After one of the visits, the woman turned to me and explained how lucky we were to be on a family vacation. I’ve always known this – that just to have siblings and two parents is nowadays considered luck, nevermind traveling together, but the woman emphasized the concept to Paige and I.

“My sons,” she whispered, “they don’t have a father. ‘Where’s daddy?’ they have asked me. All I can say is, ‘I don’t know.’”

After landing and going through immigration, I exchanged a final conversation with the woman at the baggage claim.

“Where is your hotel?” I asked her.

“I’m not sure,” she began, nonchalantly. “Somewhere in this city!” She threw her hands up in the air and laughed.

My parents joined in on the conversation now, too, asking her how long she was staying and what she planned on doing while in Tel Aviv.

“We’re here [from Monday] until Thursday,” she said. “I don’t know what we’re doing – if we like it here, we stay longer; if not, we go home. I’d like to get to the Dominican before the end of August anyways!”

My dad was dumbfounded, gripping onto his itinerary. I couldn’t help but wonder, is it better to land in a foreign city and blindly explore or to follow a schedule? I figured the next 13 days would answer that question for me.

The woman and I bid farewell, wished each other a good trip, and separated into the crowd of people; it was then that I realized I had never learned her name. She didn’t know mine either, or at least I don’t remember introducing myself. But how important are names, anyway? Of course, there are specific times when you should always learn someone’s name, and more importantly refer to that person as such. However, in instances such as this, I don’t think names matter much. In a way, I almost appreciate the story more because of its anonymity. I will always remember this woman and the impact she had on me no matter what her name is. She taught me the importance of appreciating my family and of taking chances in life – to welcome new experiences and travels with an open mind. Perhaps most importantly, I now have the mantra, “If you like it, you stay longer, and if you don’t … well you just leave.”

If I ever see her again, by some seemingly impossible chance – who knows if we’ll recognize one another? When she told me about her love for travel, she must have been referring to the intriguing nature of the unknown. And from that, I gained an important new outlook on the voyage versus the destination. Nevertheless, I have decided that the impact of both the destination and the journey is equal. In order to learn anything from the destination you must also appreciate the journey that carried you there, and vice versa.

Samara Abramson is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]