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Flying to Hawaii

January 7, 2013

Flying back from home today I had the privilege of sharing a three-person row with two sisters.  They were quite young; I’d guess the oldest was about 7, maybe 8 and her sister a year or two younger.  Across the aisle sat their mother, and in the row in front of us either their older sister or an older cousin; perhaps their favorite aunt – she looked to be a few years younger than me.  A father was nowhere in sight nor ever mentioned throughout the whole experience.

Anyway, these sisters were just as cute and delightful as could be.  It was their first time in an airplane and here it was a trans-Pacific flight.  A1, we’ll call the oldest, was in the seat next to me and she was having a bit of a hard time at first.  I think it was a combination of the stresses of first-time travel and having to have gotten up ridiculously early to catch the flight.

Before taking off, I asked the mother if she’d like to switch seats with me so she could be in the same section as her girls.  I would have been taking an aisle seat, but my “window” seat was really just a “wall” seat, or “bulkhead” seat.  She was fine with the seating arrangements as they were, though, and the girls didn’t put up any fuss.

However, seeing some of the fussiness A1 was putting out due to the aforementioned circumstances, I wanted to help.  I’ve been there – the tired travel days, the apparent favoring of a peer over yourself.  I don’t believe the mother was favoring A2 at all, but since she was a bit younger she did make some special concessions such as changing where they’d each sit.  Of course that’s not really a big deal to you or I, but that could be a huge thing to someone who’s feeling perhaps scared at the unfamiliarity of an epic situation and doesn’t quite know how to express herself.

As we were taking off, the girls were trying to look out the window that was practically in the row ahead of us.  From where they were, they had a better vantage point than I.  A1 looked out and her mother tried asking her questions to get her excited, but A1 was shutting her down by simply being contrary.  I think the mother was a bit distressed but I saw right through it and smiled in spite of myself.

Up in the air, A1 wanted something out of the travel bag their mother had put under A1’s seat due to storage issues.  It was a grown-up bag, unlike A1’s own personal backpack, so she was struggling with opening it.  I asked the mother if I could assist; she was just so worried about her kids causing a ruckus she said I didn’t have to; I assured her it’d be my pleasure.

Instead of just unzipping the bag where it lay, I hefted it up into my lap and had A1 open it; I think she appreciated the help but still liked doing a bit of it herself.  Her snack bar was nowhere to be found – the mother was mistaken and I could hear A1’s drama meter beeping louder and louder.  The mother was also tired; she didn’t know what to say – it was the wrong pocket – now what?

“Well, how about this one?” I asked, gesturing at the next one.  So A1 looked in there, nothing, we looked in the final one and score!  A1’s mood began to improve from then on out.

A1 & A2 each got one of those little travel iPad like thingies the airline rents out for $10 and they were watching their programs bent over, the devices in their laps.  I pulled out my own iPad and showed A1 how to use the tray from the seat in front of me.  She imitated me then A2 imitated her.

Once, A1 remarked to me how she really felt as though we were almost higher than the sun. Not wanting to just be Mr. Factual, but also wanting to be a little educational I said, “Alllllmost, but you can tell by the angle that it’s looking at us and that it’s still just a little bit higher.  But look down there,” I said, pointing at the clouds, miles below us.  “We are definitely a lot higher than the highest clouds!”

“Yeeeeah,” she said in wonder.

At one point A1 asked how long I was staying in Hawaii.  I told her that I was actually on my way back from Christmas vacation and that I lived there.  That seemed to surprise her – after all, Hawaii’s a vacation spot, not a living spot (and I don’t wholly disagree with that sentiment)!

Later I learned that while they’re there, the lot of them is going to go swimming with dolphins!  How exciting is that?  We talked for a few minutes about how nice and smart dolphins are and that we’re glad they beat up sharks instead of helping them eat us.

As we neared our destination, the excitement began to build.  A1 kept talking about how there’s sand everywhere in Hawaii because it’s all beach; she talked about getting to go swimming at night because they’re hotel is right on the beach; she talked of hoping to shake a palm tree hard enough to get a coconut to fall down, just for her.

When we pulled up to the gate and everyone began to stand to disembark, I noticed something about the mother: she had affixed a button to her shirt that said something like, “Make-A-Wish Mom – Ask me”

“The Make-A-Wish Foundation?” I thought to myself.  At the time I said nothing…

…but about 15 minutes later I saw the lot of them standing on the opposite side of the baggage claim waiting for their luggage.  It was the first time I was able to see A1’s full shirt: “Make-A-Wish Foundation.”  

What in the world??  I thought it was just fatigue in her eyes that made them a bit baggy, a bit strained for a youngster such as she.  If a film score was playing it had subtly shifted into a melancholy, minor key.

After collecting my own bags, I finally worked up the nerve to go round the conveyor and ask what that was all about.

The mother smiled and explained that both girls, in fact, are recipients of a wish come true.  They’re in Hawaii for a week and then return to wait for kidney transplants.  I inquired no further but wished them, again, a very happy time on the island and told them I’d pray for the operation.

As I waited for my ride, I watched as the family exited the terminal and the Make-A-Wish people started in on making the wishes come true.

Now they’re out enjoying their hotel room on the beach.  And in a couple days they’ll swim with dolphins.

Maybe by the time I finish this blogpost I’ll have successfully fought off the tears.






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