The Space Between

I was aware of her energy from the beginning.  I had just sat down when she approached the aisle with her 2 children.  Her daughter, maybe 11 or 12, was assigned to the seat next to me.  I offered to move so they could be together but both mother and daughter declined. After making her way to the window, the daughter quickly inserted her ear buds and sank deep into her seat, far removed from attention.

The mother took the aisle seat directly across from me.  It was a small plane and the space between us felt like a thin sliver.  My own husband and children were seated several rows ahead and I remember yearning to feel their presence.  But I was completely alone, alone with this woman sitting so close.

She bantered playfully with her children, but her affection felt somehow forced, perhaps too loud or edgy.  It made me hyper-alert, waiting for something to happen as I leafed through my magazine.

As we readied for landing, the stewardess placed her hand lightly on the woman’s seat and instructed her to raise it to an upright position.

Suddenly without warning the woman began yelling in a loud and aggressive voice, threatening and swearing at the stewardess for telling her what to do. 

The scene switched to slow-motion.

The stewardess began to cry, mascara streaming down her face, and quickly moved behind a curtain to place a call.  The passengers were silent but the little boy cried, asking his mother what was going to happen, if she was going to go to back to jail.

I felt the daughter sinking deeper as the stewardess announced that we were to remain seated upon landing, allowing the officers to board the plane.

The mother tried to minimize the situation, assuring her son loudly that she hadn’t done anything wrong.  She was unconvincing.

I could feel the tension radiating from the woman so close to me.  She had started a scene that was just beginning to unfold.  Too late to stop, I could sense her desperation.  And the stakes were so high.

As I sat there, inches away, I tried to absorb her tension, her anxiety and fear.  

I tried to fill the space between us with my calmest and most loving energy.  It was ok, it would be ok, she could resume control.

I continued to leaf through my magazine as calmly as possible, bathing her in my most supportive thoughts.

I held her in my energy until I had to leave.  She seemed much calmer, or perhaps that’s how I wished her to be.

As I left the plane I found my husband and kids waiting for me, only mildly curious about the woman and what had set her off.  Their attention quickly wandered to our trip and I suddenly felt so far away.

I struggled to catch up and fill the space between.

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About mbhuber2013

convener and co-founder of BTEP, instructor for Tanzania Study Abroad course; Associate Dean for Undergraduate Research and Experiential Learning at University at Buffalo

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