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Lions Roar : May 2009
SHAMBHALA SUN MAy 2009 29 havInG DISCOvereD ThaT TaLKInG to a person on a train or a bus or a plane, or even in a supermarket line, often becomes a valuable lesson for me, I am always eager for chances to do it. I was in a window seat near the front an hour into my flight from San Francisco to new York when a woman standing in the aisle caught my eye and asked, “Would it be all right with you if I came and sat in this empty middle seat for the last half hour of the flight? I’m way at the back.” “Yes, it’s fine,” I replied, looking over at the man in the aisle seat who acknowledged that he was also agreeable. “Thanks,” she said. “I’ll be back.” Four hours later she returned, put her coat into the overhead compartment, and took the middle seat. She thanked me again. “You’re welcome,” I said. “Why did you want to sit here now, just at the end of the flight?” “I’m claustrophobic,” she replied. “I am okay in a plane, even way in the back, when everyone is sitting down. When they stop at the gate and everyone stands up and I can’t move at all or even stand up straight, I start to feel very anxious. This way, I’ll just get off as soon as the doors open.” “I’m glad you asked,” I said, smiling. “I always do,” she replied. “I’m not embarrassed. everyone has something. I have claustrophobia.” “Do you live in new York or are you visiting,” I asked. “I live in San Francisco. I’m going to my brother-in-law’s funer- al. he died the day before yesterday. he and my sister lived in new York. I have three brothers who live there too. My other two sisters live in California near me. They’re in the back of the plane.” “I’m glad you have such a big family,” I said. “Times like these it’s important.” “We are seven siblings now,” she continued, “but my mother had eight children. Those days, Irish Catholics, we had big fami- lies. My eldest brother was killed in the war in the pacific when he was seventeen. Jim knew if he waited until he was eighteen he’d be drafted, and he wanted to be in the navy, not the army, because he wanted to sleep in a warm bed. Funny what you re- member so many years later. I was five years old.” “Who took it harder, your mother or your father?” “It was terrible for both of them. I think they never got over it.” She sat quietly for some moments. Then she said, “When we got older, my sisters and brothers and I made a foundation that pays for talented students in some of the small Solomon Islands to go to high school in Guadalcanal. Otherwise they couldn’t go ILLuSTraTIOnBYMISSYChIMOvITz Wisdom in the Next Seat A chance meeting on a plane reminds Sylvia boorStein that striking up a conversation with a stranger and being truly interested in what they say can lead to unexpected insights. Sylvia BooRStein is a co-founding teacher at Spirit Rock Medita- tion center in Woodacre, california. She is a practicing psychotherapist and the best-selling author of such books as pay attention, for Goodness’ Sake and, most recently, happiness Is an Inside Job.