62: The Lady in Seat 26B

62: The Lady in Seat 26B

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Kind (of) America

The Lady in Seat 26B

The secret of genius is to carry the spirit of the child into old age, which means never losing your enthusiasm.

~Aldous Huxley

I don’t typically talk with passengers on airplanes. My flight time is reserved for falling asleep to my favorite music or turning the pages of a good book. That changed, though, on a flight from Tampa to Newark when I sat next to her — the lady in seat 26B.

After tossing my carry-on luggage into the compartment above me, I settled into my seat. I cracked open my book, anxious to discover what Harry would get into during his third year at Hogwarts.

Then she turned to me.

“And where are you traveling to? Home or on vacation?”

I closed my book. Maybe later, Harry.

“Heading home,” I said. “You?”

“Oh, I’m heading home, too,” she began. “I was visiting my sister in Florida. I come from a very large family. Nine kids! I’m the oldest still alive — eighty-nine!”

And then she laughed.

She laughed the way a schoolgirl might, full of childlike joy, innocence and whimsy in her voice. She reminded me of my own grandmother: the way she gestured with her hands, her freshly painted pink nails, her starting a conversation with a complete stranger as if we’d been friends for ages. I wouldn’t have guessed she was nearly ninety, though. She held no cane or glasses, just an iPhone and ripe enthusiasm.

“Good book?” she asked, pointing to my paperback.

“Yes. Do you read?”

“Oh, I don’t have time to read,” she replied.

I’m sixty years younger than 26B, I thought, yet she’s the one who’s too busy to read? What on earth could she be doing with her days?

“Well,” she began, “I work at Costco two days a week. I pass out the samples, you know. I just love it! I meet all sorts of folks. There are real nice people. There are also the cranky ones, but I enjoy them, too!” She laughed again, and I admired her ability to not let negative energies affect her mood. I wondered how I could manage that, too.

“My mom always said to be like a duck.”

“Like a duck?” I asked.

“Yes. Have you ever seen a duck when it’s wet? The water just rolls right off its back.”

I’ve heard a lot of sayings from my grandma over the years, but this one was new to me. I liked it. Be like a duck.

“I’m also very active with my church,” she began again, rattling off what created a schedule too busy for reading. “I meet up with my girls. I go out to dinner every Saturday night with my son and his wife. Usually Outback or Longhorn. Sometimes Chinese. Then on Sundays, I cook a big pot of sauce, and the entire family comes over to my house for dinner — my kids, grandkids, even the great-grandkids! We just sit around the kitchen table and laugh. Oh, do we laugh!”

And then she did. She laughed a great, deep belly laugh. Her face lit up. I believed each wrinkle had been created from joy, as if her body couldn’t contain her happiness and so it spread out onto her face.

“Are you hungry?” she asked. Before I could answer, she was rummaging through her purse. She pulled out Ziploc bags of trail mix and a granola bar.

“Here,” she said as she plopped them onto my tray table. “Eat some.”

She continued to rummage.

“Oh, have you had these?” She handed me a single Werther’s Original hard candy.

“Well, now I know you’re as old as you claim,” I said. “You just forced a hard candy on me.”

We both laughed.

“What’s your secret,” I asked, “to sounding so happy, positive and healthy?”

“I bake a lot,” she laughed. “No, really. My husband died ten years ago. I thought to myself, I’m not going to just sit around! That’s when I got my Costco job. I believe in being active.”

She paused for a few seconds and then turned toward me.

“Life is so good,” she said. “I’m just excited every day to live it!”

I’m just excited every day to live it.

I wanted that three-hour plane ride to reroute to California so I would have more time to learn about her life, her experiences — her energy for life. I became more inspired with each mile we flew.

I told myself, If someone who is eighty-nine years old can choose to live her life with such desire and passion, I can, too! What’s the point of mindlessly dragging through life when you can be excited to live it every day? Why sleep on a plane when you can ride, eyes awake, next to someone like 26B?

We touched down, and passengers jumped out of their seats, waiting to pull luggage from their overhead compartments and exit the plane.

26B and I remained sitting.

“Thank you for chatting with me,” I said. “You are very inspiring.”

“I try to be kind,” she said. “When you’re kind to people, they’ll be kind to you.”

~Katelyn Stanis

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