Boarding my plane to attend and present at the Soaring Spirits LGBTQ widowed event in Los Angeles this week and feeling more nervous than I have ever felt speaking. I have presented in front of audiences over 500 people about a variety of topics from penguins to being widowed. Broad range of topics but my life has always been unique and a bit eccentric. I was given the middle seat on a flight from Atlanta to San Diego. I can only hope that my neighbors on either side are good humans.
With only a few minutes before departure, I have the row to myself until a very winded young woman waves her hand to inform me that she is in the window seat. She is rapidly talking on the phone to someone I can only assume she is in a relationship with:
“I’m on the plane and just got to my seat.”
“I almost didn’t make it.”
“I’ll see you soon. I love you”
Here I am sitting in a middle seat, alone, heading to speak at a widowed event hearing a conversation I pray I could someday have with someone.
Stay calm Bryan. Stay calm.
It’s jarring when it seems the oxygen gets scarce suddenly. If people only knew how often something is said and it silently takes your breath away. Those basic conversations in life that escape those who now speak widowed words. I know better than to let it fully get to me. I know that I’m here on this plane for some reason. Dear Universe please point out a reason sooner rather than later.
The doors of the plane close and the aisle seat is empty. I shift over and feel the space I’ve gained. A bit emotionally safer is the best way I could describe it. What appears to be just an empty seat to some, so clearly represents to me the opposite ends of the world I feel this young woman and I are living. I’m gearing up to isolate myself with earphones and time wasting tasks when she begins conversation.
She is young, energetic and very sweet. She begins to tell me that she almost missed her flight and that she is getting married to her girlfriend this weekend. Universe what are you trying to tell me? I’m 10,000 miles up, I can’t escape her pure joy and it is beginning to hurt.
I continue cordial conversation and it becomes my turn. How I hate sharing my loss with someone who is headed towards fulfilling their heart. Guilt gathers with grief in so many forms. Nowhere to run and my only option is to release the truth. He’s gone and I’m headed to spend time in community with others who have lost what you are about to gain. I’m so very sorry for this bit of shade I cast onto your bright journey young woman.
Than the Universe answered “why” in such a loud response that my heart was struck with pure wonder. Her fiancé has been sick and may have a terminal illness. That giant gap between us was actually space for us to come together in a way I never expected. She shared how deeply she was in love and it reminded me of me when Tin was diagnosed. Like a reflection I could speak too. How in the world can it be a coincidence? She spoke truths about her feelings of unconditional love just as I had given to Clayton. She shared her partner’s insecurities and guilt for being ill just as Clayton had. I have never had that conversation with anyone and there this young woman was speaking my heart out loud for me to hear for the first time.
Now I write these words as I am flying over Texas, where Clayton grew up. I’m looking around and other people’s video screens are playing different movies but all with weddings. Life is to be celebrated so I bought her a drink and congratulated her on her wedding. Aboard a flight traveling to speak of losses, I am suddenly filled with hope. Thank you young beautiful woman for sharing your inspirational joy with me today. You kept me from guarding myself, showed me more than you know and I am so very grateful…