The end of school came in with a typical whirlwind of activity and a few delightful-but-tiring extras thrown in–an accumulation of a couple of weeks of nonstop activity and lots of people. I packed up my classroom on Friday and limped out of the school year. On Sunday, I took off for NYC and a wonderful, intense week of learning at Teacher’s College Summer Reading Institute.
By the end of the week, I was a limp dishrag, ready to hoist the white flag (and to mix a few metaphors along the way), and in search of solitary confinement. But it was time to head to Ohio for a visit with family and friends.
I hate flying, and typically dread the entire experience, but as I boarded the plane, it occurred to me that this flight was going to be my last chance for solitude and relative inactivity for the next 4 or 5 days.
“It might even be nice!” I thought, looking forward to peace, quiet and some solid reading time.
Then my seat mate arrived.
She was a lovely, young woman, excited to be heading back from a trip to Germany to visit her parents and looking forward to her reunion with her boyfriend, and their new apartment, and the upcoming trip with his family, which she’d promised them a year ago that she would go on and it meant she had to leave Germany early, but…
She paused to glance down at an incoming text.
“Oh, my family just went to the vineyards without me! Why would they do that after I left!?”
She then burbled on at greater length about her family, her boyfriend, her recent trip, her upcoming trip. She was lovely and sweet, but oy!
She finally paused and asked me, “What do you do?”
“I’m a teacher.”
“Oh, what grade?” she asked.
“Fourth,” I replied.
She turned her body fully toward me, her face alight.
“Oh! My fourth grade teacher saved my life!” she exclaimed. Then she went on and on… about how she thought she’d wanted to be a teacher, and about an experience she’d had working in a classroom when she was in school in England (with a long detour to explain why she’d attended middle school and high school in England) and how wonderful it was but it just wasn’t for her, but the kids made her this wonderful book and she still has it and it was wonderful ….
Then she repeated, “I just loved my fourth grade teacher! She saved my life! Really, she did! She was the first person to bring my attention difficulties to my parents’ attention.” (Which, to be honest, made me wonder how much attention her parents had been paying. I also heroically restrained myself from suggesting that her prior teachers had probably noticed something as well.)
She continued, “We loved her. And she loved us.” She paused dramatically, then said, “She loved us so much that she taught us the next year, too!”
Eventually, after I had a pretty good picture of the past year or so of her life, with some childhood details sketched in as well, she trailed off and we began taxiing down the runway.
Taking-off is the hardest part of any flight for me. My go-to strategy is to bury myself in a puzzle book of sorts, typically word games. So, I buried myself in my crossword, trying to pretend I wasn’t on a plane (my go-to strategy). I entered my zone of intense concentration.
Midway through our ascent, a voice penetrated my carefully constructed zone. I ripped my focus from my puzzle book and looked around.
“Excuse me. Excuse me…”
I turned toward my seat mate. Yes, she was talking to me.
“I’m sorry to bother you, but I thought since you’re a teacher, you’d have seen a lot of this and know.” She pushed her finger into her right eyelid and bent closer to me.
“Do you think I have pink eye?” she asked.
I stared at her, slightly bemused. “What?”
“Do you think I have pink eye?” she repeated, jabbing her finger toward her eye again.
Finally, I replied, noncommittally, “Well, your eye lid is slightly red.”
“I know!” she enthused. “It’s been bothering me all day and it feels funny. So I was wondering if you think it might be pink eye.” She looked at me expectantly, leaning closer.
I stared back at her.
“No,” I finally said slowly and decisively, still struggling to make sense of the moment, “it is not pink eye.”
“Oh, phew!” she said, exhaling, and leaning back into her seat, looking mightily relieved.
Phew?! Phew?! Like I’m the authority and this potential problem is now solved?
I turned back to my puzzle book and went back to pretending I wasn’t on a plane, hoping that she really didn’t have pink eye.
It was going to be a long flight.