Unexpected inspiration at Gate 17

I’m hoofing it. The gate is a lot further than I imagined, and my boarding pass says in bold block letters, ZONE 2. This is exciting. I’m usually way at the back of the bus when it comes to seating. I’m just approaching the gate as I hear the flight boarding announcement and “Zone (garble).” Is it mine? Am I late?

I hate being one of those people who hovers waiting for my row to be called, but I do it anyway — with a mind not to be obnoxious. At this particular gate there’s an enormous pillar ten feet from the door. As a result, everyone is crammed around it, me in front. I ask the two seated ladies behind me if they know which zone they’re boarding.

“I’m not sure,” the testy-looking well-dressed one says. She should loosen her chignon.

“What zone are you?” I inquire.

“Two,” she replies. Same as me. I try to step aside, but there’s nowhere to go.

A heavy, elderly man pushing a walker approaches the gate, but he looks spaced out and doesn’t seem to know where he’s going. Behind him a middle aged woman, probably his daughter, jaw set, growls at him, “Go!”

A pause. “Go where?” he asks faintly. She’s frazzled and angry. He probably has dementia. This trip must be difficult for both of them. Reaching out, I put my hand on his shoulder and guide him forward, “Walk toward the door,” I encourage, pointing at it. He shuffles in the right direction.

A woman standing beside me comments gently, “You seem to know what you’re doing. Do you travel often?”

I’m caught off-guard by her question. “Well, not normally. I mean… Two years ago I spent seven weeks in Spain and got bit by the bug. So yes, I guess I do travel a lot more than I used to.”

As I’m responding to her question, her mouth opens wide and she gasps in delight. For the second time in two months, a total stranger met en route makes me feel like a traveling rock star.

“Where are you going right now?” she asks.

“I’m just coming back from visiting a friend and seeing Sequoia National Park.”

“How lovely! Do you have favorite places to travel?

Again, I’ve never thought about this before. “Well, I’m going back to Spain again next spring to walk the Camino again, only this time in the opposite direction. But I also love France, Alaska, Ireland.”

“Oh, I’ve always wanted to go there,” she tells me. She’s probably in her mid-sixties with cute, blonde bobbed hair and bright eyes.

“You should. You’d love it,” I tell her. “The west coast of Ireland is my favorite. I’ve been there three times, but I haven’t explored the rest of the country yet. A good friend of mine lives in Galway. I hope to visit her on my way to Spain next year.”

“How wonderful!”

Overhead we hear, “Now boarding all passengers in Zone Two. Zone Two, please approach the gate for boarding.”

The testy, well-dressed lady zips past me with her boarding pass in hand. Just at that moment, my blond friend sees something on the bench behind us. It’s the woman’s bag.

“Ma’am? Ma’am?” I say, hoping to get her attention. She turns around with a sour look and follows my gaze to her purse. Her expression goes from surprised eyebrows to relieved shoulders to grateful eye contact and a sheepish smile. See? I think to myself. You just never know who you’re going to help or who will help you. Be kind to everyone.

As I enter the jet way, I realize that I really am getting good at this travel thing. Not just the transportation logistics, but being an adventuress and a pilgrim of life. If your eyes and heart are open, you can meet great people and have meaningful experiences that could change someone’s life — or your own.