Chance Encounters May Never Be Just That

Sinking into my seat on the plane, I noticed her immediately. A silk scarf strewn about her neck, giving her a rather regal appearance, this older woman had eagerly fetched a journal from her bag to write about her long journey home, listing complaints about long airport security lines and even longer flight delays. I couldn’t help but notice and let my curiosity get the best of me, as her journal was opened plainly on her lap.

My appearance was less than regal. Though the road is literally my home, as I’ve spent the same amount of time this year in hotels as I have staying with family or with my boyfriend, no amount of travel-know-how can overcome the stupidity brought on by ample doses of allergy medication. Foolishly, I had planned for my best friend to pick me up at 7pm for an 8:10 flight, the airport an hour from where I was staying. Luckily, the boyfriend called and asked what in the world I was still doing sitting around, prompting a mad dash to the airport. With no time at all for me to change from my house-cleaning clothes, a Sheldon Cooper “Flash” shirt and old jeans, my sweaty, rain-drenched self must have been quite the sight as I panted for breath next to her.

She continued writing about air travel on the right page as the left page fell open beside me. I only noticed a few beautifully-scribbled words and phrases: “lover”, “mortgage”, “such sadness” and “when he died” and, not wanting to bother this woman, fought the urge to be the unwelcome chatter box beside her.

I was thrilled when she picked up discussion with me. In the most brilliant of British accents she told of her long journey on several different planes back from France, where she’d spent the summer. Using money from the sale of a boat she and her “former partner” shared, then sold when they broke up, she had travelled to France on a whim and had bought a small house in a beautiful wine country while there. Once a bakery, the main room and old stone stove had caved in, leaving much to be repaired. But she’d rebuilt the structure of the home, was currently working on the roof and was keeping herself busied with the refurbishment of her treasured property.

I was immediately enthralled at her story, as I’ve dreamed of doing something similar ever since seeing Under the Tuscan Sun and getting all too carried away by my own Eat, Pray, Love adventures. I asked if she’d seen the movie or read the books, to which her eyes just sparkled, and she shared she’d been motivated this way, as well. And she went on with her tale.

Having grown up in England, she met her husband in her hometown while in her young 20’s. He was originally from Missouri, but took a job soon after they made acquaintance in Kansas, where she lives to this day. Having a difficult time adjusting to life in the middle of nowhere after living just outside London, her days were made whole simply by how in love with him she was. They were happily married, and she stayed married to him through a year-after-year bought he fought with Alzheimer’s disease, taking care of him day and night until he finally passed from it.

Devastated and knowing no role for years outside of mother and wife, she decided that “she was going to have to keep living before she got to dying,” earning her real estate license and beginning a career. She was returning home, now, to earn some more money so that she could eventually go back to her little cottage among the grapevines.

She fretted as to whether her dog would remember her, and spoke sadly of the times she’d returned from her trips, before, only to find her dog shunning her and giving her the silent treatment. The villa in France, along with a collection of friends from around the world who had settled there, kept her passionate about life and active from day to day. But the loneliness, she complained, was sometimes hard to bear, even with plenty of friends to keep company. She was fascinated by the concept of online dating, and wondered out loud to me if a woman, now in her late 70’s, would find love so late in life.

I encountered this woman a few weeks ago, now. But my thoughts keep going back to her. What bravery. What courage. The resilience that she displayed through all of her stories. Our chance meeting was truly inspiring… and I do know that, someday, I will have my little house overseas…

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