to the old couple beside me on the plane in october 2011


You told me I was fearless. I was coming home from an adventure, and I wasn't sure I wanted to. I was coming home to old friends and new things, and I wasn't sure if maybe what I wanted was new friends and old things. I thought I should have stayed longer, or should never have gone at all, but I wasn't sure. I thought I was in love—with people and places and a way of life. I thought I was, but I wasn't sure, and it frightened me.

But you told me I was fearless. You found out I had been traveling alone, and you found out how young I was. You observed the ease in which I settled into my seat, the way my fingers didn't tighten around the armrest as the plane took off. You held hands for most of the flight, and when dinner and breakfast arrived in plastic containers you shared bread and fruit and coffee, even if you didn't need to. One of you used to be a doctor. You were both retired, and you looked like you'd earned the right to rest. You didn't speak much.

To be sure, and to be strong, and to be kind to one another, and to work and work and work, and to stay, and to love through it all with a certainty that is quiet and tender, smoothing out the wrinkles of sadness and anger with soft, soothing hands: I hope someone tells you, at least once, that this is what being fearless really is.

I never got your names, never gave you mine. You are just another old married couple on a plane, and on harsh dry soil you are just a man and a woman living out your last good years the best way you know how; we will never meet again and someday your story will end. Someday, your story will end. But every time I tell this story, soft and clear like the plane's wheels on the safest and gentlest of landings, you will always be the fearless ones.