I meet the most interesting people when I travel. I flew up to Boston late yesterday for tonight’s Light the Night fundraiser to benefit the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS). It can be inconvenient and tiring to travel, but more often than not, getting out helps to recharge my batteries.
I’m conveniently ignoring the fact that I had to cram in my Velcade infusion yesterday morning on the way to the airport. It’s the fourth week of my four week treatment cycle; I wasn’t feeling well as I visited with a bright and disarming college student sitting in the window seat next to my on the first leg of my trip through Atlanta
Undeterred or intimidated by my the bright yellow duck mask I was wearing, Aino chatted openly and enthusiastically with me for most of the short hour long flight.
A marine biology and international business double major, Aino is from Kuopio, Finland. She was headed home to visit family for a short, week-long visit.
I could feel my energy level rise as I listened to this young woman speak enthusiastically–and in perfect English–about her boyfriend from Minneapolis, her studies and how she learned two new languages in six years. What next? Japanese 101. “I hope to be fluent before I travel there after the first of the year.” She said, proudly. “Fluent?” After a semester? Oh to be young again!
Who am I kidding? I was never that smart; I took German for two years in middle school and didn’t exactly pull down straight A’s.
I asked Aino for a picture to post, but she didn’t think she could do that until she returned from Europe. “I have three different cell phone plans.” She tried to explain. “Internet isn’t included. But I don’t care. I like books.”
I felt so young–and so old–all at the same time. But her enthusiasm was contagious; there was a distinct spring in my step as she passed me, racing up the gangway to catch her 10 hour connecting flight to Zurich.
And my connecting flight to Boston? Let’s just say I was two for two. The friendly and approachable woman sitting in the isle seat next to me turned-out to be the Associate Producer of PBS’ award winning Antiques Roadshow. Jill Giles and a co-worker were returning from a fact finding trip to locate possible locations for upcoming broadcasts. I found this picture of her at a recent shoot on Google. Jill is the one on the left.
She could have sent me unspoken signals to disengage at any time; buried her head in the book she was trying to read or leaned back and closed her eyes. Instead, she listened intently as I explained what I did, where I was traveling and why.
Turns out she has a good friend who was recently diagnosed with multiple myeloma. I anxiously passed her a copy of my first book, Living with Multiple Myeloma, for her to read and pass along to her 41 year old friend that apparently had just undergone a stem cell transplant.
She understood enough to know that doctors had used the young man’s own cells for the transplant. I spoke openly about how hard life had been for my wife the past six years–and how I wanted Pattie to go back to school. “We would like to move to a fun college town.” I said. “Where do you want to go?” She asked, looking up at me with her big, bright smile. “What do you want to do?” “I love what I do.” I answered. “I can write anywhere. This move is her call. I want her to be happy; she deserves that.”
I didn’t talk about me for the entire flight. We transitioned easily to Jill’s family history via IPad; pictures of her husband Todd (a commercial pilot) and their two young boys vacationing on the coast of Maine this summer, and in front of every famous landmark in Paris; from the Mona Lisa to the Eiffel Tower last spring.
And yes, I found time to ask lots of questions about Antiques Roadshow and PBS. Gill recalled how she had gotten her start as an intern 13 years ago, working her way up as the show grew in popularity and acclaim.
Modest, with just a bit of competitive edge peaking through, Jill now does all the advance work for the show, as well as coordinating the actual 4 days of on location shooting.
WOW! Pretty cool! She hugged me and wished me well as we left the plane and I removed my mask. I’m hoping we can keep in touch; a special new friend. Because she’s produces Antiques Roadshow? NO! Because she’s young (40ish), sharp, successful and SHE ISN’T SICK! Who knew living in Florida–and doing what I do–that friendly, well educated folks like that even existed?
Jill laughed when she heard me say that. She understood; most everyone I know is older, either has cancer or is working to fight it. “Why aren’t these people happy?” I asked, referring to the hoards of retirees that seem to always be scowling, whether in their cars or at the grocery store. “They should be ecstatic!” I exclaimed, adding, “They made it! Old people should be shooting off streamers and throwing never ending parties!”
Jill and I friends? A cancer-free friend? Not sure I have any of those anymore. OK, I’m exaggerating. My old friends, Tim and Lisa in Appleton, Wisconsin come to mind. But it’s a pretty short list. I’ve probably chased them all away because I’m always talking about CANCER! I’m not exactly a fun guest to roll0ut at cocktail parities “Let’s get out of here! Cancer guy moving this way…”
I’m a richer, better man for having shared flights with Aino and Jill. Definitely worth the risk and inconveniences of travel. And sometimes there are other small yet meaningful blessings. Like the kind flight attendant that unexpectedly allowed me to stow my carry-on with her gear up-front, rather than needing to walk back up the gangway to check it because the overhead bins were too full.
But don’t be fooled: I realize the law of averages is bound to come into play on my flights home. See the large, linebacker type moving down the isle because he’s too wide to walk facing forward and fit? And his even larger brother who’s struggling behind? How did my seat end up squeezed in between that pair?
I’ll simply keep repeating: “Travel energizes me; travel energizes me…”
Feel good and keep smiling! Pat