When flying, I always opt for window seats. The heavenly view is a savior if I get snagged into a boring conversation. Sky-side seats also avoid having to endure passengers bumping into me as they walk the aisle.
On a recent trip to Hawaii, during the first six-hour leg and headed to Arizona, I settled in and looked forward to a relaxing flight.
Until two children took the seats next to me.
Even though their grandmother was across the aisle, it would be hard not to have a quasi-maternal eye on her grandchildren. Nonetheless, I tried to stake my ground as a grown up. I plugged in my earphones and pulled out a book.
As the plane took off, the children stared straight ahead. Once air bound, they started the brother-sister bullying. Her elbow was touching his. Alternatively, they both put their seats back, and then pushed to get them back even further. The entire row of seats jostled. I kept reading the same sentence in my book.
It was going to be a long flight to Phoenix. I turned up the sound on my headset. Jason Mraz never sounded so glorious.
A stewardess came by with her cart and asked what we'd like to drink. The children pushed each other when I ordered a Chardonnay. Unfortunately for me, airlines don't serve this beverage on morning flights.
"Water with ice, please."
"And for you?" the stewardess asked my bouncy neighbors.
"We'll have Sprite." (Of course.)
I was hell-bent on finishing at least a chapter in my book, but when the drinks came, nosiness got the best of me. I couldn't help but ask, "So, what are you guys doing in Phoenix?"
"We're going to a monastery with our grandmother," said the 9-year old Justine. "We're on vacation," she said and pointed to her 12-year old brother, Stavros.
"And that's my grandmother," Justine continued as she gestured across the aisle to a small-frame woman dressed in black with a tightly twisted grey bun. She was seated with two other nun-like looking women swathed in black and wearing identical tight buns. I was fascinated by how the children spoke Greek to their grandmother, English to me and occasionally French to one another.
"What will you do there?" I asked. My curiosity was piqued. Forget the book. This sounded like a good story.
"We're going to pray," Justine said.
Stavros joined our parlay and told me they went to a Greek school in Montreal where, by the way, "... the snow is up to there." He looked up at the overhead luggage bins.
They liked their school but there was one aspect about it that Stavros found hard. Wearing uniforms.
"But isn't that easier than picking an outfit every day?" I asked.
"It's hard because sometimes you don't have a clean one to wear in the morning," he said.
My solo-Zen voyage was, by now, officially out the window. At that point, I couldn't help suggesting that instead of waiting for someone else to do it for him, maybe he should wash and dry his own (damn) uniform the night before. (I didn't say "damn.")
Our conversation continued. I learned about their school, living in Montreal, speaking Greek, English and French, and how they liked praying. Their grandmother glanced towards our row of three, thrilled that someone was keeping her grandchildren occupied for the long flight.
During a conversation about spring vacation, Justine suddenly held up her hands in a chopping gesture on the seat in front of her.
"There are three kinds of people," she said. "'Mean' is over here (her hands chopped to the left). There are people who are just 'okay' (her hands chopped to the center), and then there are 'nice people,'" she said as her hands chopped hard to the right. "You're over here. You're nice."
It dawned at me that this in-flight overlap of our three lives might be "a moment" to remember.
When the stewardess came by to ask what we'd like for lunch, I ordered salad. The children remained silent. (Maybe they had already eaten?)
"Are you going to order Pringles with your lunch?" Justine looked at me and asked.
I hadn't thought of ordering Pringles as a side, but I know how 9-year olds angle.
"Would you like me to order them for you?"
"You don't have to."
"It's my pleasure," I said. "But they're going to be for you and your brother to share. We'll call it 'The Pringles Peace Pact.'"
Maybe this would assuage their non-stop pushing and nudging.
Sharing Pringles worked (at least for the rest of the flight). Peace reigned between Stavros and Justine, and our conversation continued for hours. I was asked if we had Target, Toys R Us and Sports Experts in the U.S. (Yes, yes, and no. We call it "Sports Authority.") They taught me how to say and write "hello" (γειά σου), "goodbye" (αντίο) and "thank you" (σας ευχαριστώ) in Greek. I learned that Stavros loves history. How Justine's mother almost named her "Penelope" but she's glad she's "Justine."
As we prepared to land, I told the children that I was going to give them a secret message but they could only read it when they got off the plane. I handed the folded paper to Stavros:
1. Be nice to your sister.
2. Remember the "Pringles Peace Pact."
And then triple-folded over:
3. Fill the world with love.
Never miss an opportunity to share the message of peace and love ... especially with rowdy kids sitting next to you on your next flight.