Ensconced in her window seat in the front of the plane, tray table down, sorting through all of the treasures she had stashed into two cotton carry bags, a most delightful slip of a woman looked up as I moved in to take the aisle seat. She smiled at me and her blue eyes twinkled. Wispy white hair peaked out from the sides of her knit cap and a fringed pom-pom danced on top. The word elf came to mind. I sensed this was going to be more of an adventure than my usual Portland to Phoenix flights and boy was I right.
Her name was Violet and when I sat down next to her on that flight a few years ago, she was 86 years old. She wasn’t an elf at all. She was a treasure and a very special gift.
For the next two hours and twenty minutes Violet regaled me with stories of her life and the wisdom of her years. She talked and talked. I listened and learned. For Violet, life had always been, and still was, one hell of a grand thrill ride. At 19, as a young war bride, Violet and her baby moved to Portland where she found work in the shipyards. Yes, she was the real-deal Rosie the Riveter. Husbands, jobs, kids, moves, grand kids, births and deaths – the daily act of creating a life well lived that often seems so mundane to many of us – came vividly to life as my new friend spun out tale after tale. Just an ordinary life some might think, but oh not so. What Violet knew and what so many of us miss – what makes every life special and unique and amazing – is when we pay attention to the details, embrace the challenges, open to the opportunities. It’s in how we choose to experience each of our moments. Violet chose to see adventure. She chose joy and she chose to stop and savor the tiniest details. She has never stopped exploring or learning. She loved meeting new friends. And, at 86, this beautiful lady was just beginning her latest adventure as she flew across the country to Oklahoma City to take up residence in a new apartment. She couldn’t wait to settle in, get herself a computer and start using the internet.
Opinions? She had (more than) a few – on the health benefits of dark chocolate and avocados. That most doctors didn’t know what they were talking about and nobody would benefit in the long run from popping prescription drugs. She told me she loved people but was pretty much over sex.
Two hours flew by (pun intended), we landed in Phoenix and reluctantly I had to leave. I gathered the paperwork that I not even bothered to look at and stuffed everything into my travel bag. As I stood in the aisle waiting to de-plane, Violet called out “Goodbye Nancy! Goodbye. And say hello, say hello to all the people I haven’t met yet.”
Over the next few days, Violet kept coming into my mind. Not her words so much, just a feeling. You could say this was just a chance meeting with a lovely old lady on a plane. I choose to believe that Violet was a gift to me on that day. A beautiful reminder of things that I often forget in the busyness of being – I forget to remember to PAY ATTENTION. If you ask me what I did last Tuesday, I’m not sure I can recall. It’s all so much, so fast, so busy and it often feels like I’m just sliding through. Getting it done, but not savoring it, not really seeing it, sometimes not feeling it. The magic is in the moment and Violet knew that instinctively. Me? I’m still learning.
It’s that time of year when we pause for a few moments to remember all that we are grateful for. Today I am grateful for the special “elfs” that pass through my life sprinkling the wisdom I need, just when I need it most.
Thank you Violet, wherever you are. I hope we meet again someday.
Happy Thanksgiving to All.