I am an introverted traveler.
If you are someone who likes to talk to people while in airports or on a plane and you have ever found yourself next to me, I am quite sorry. It probably wasn’t a stimulating experience.
Most of the time, I travel by myself – and when I do, I end up trying to catch up on projects, journaling my last three+ months of life, submitting extra work projects by the light of a very poor airport WiFi connection, or attempting to hide the deep-heart sadness of a goodbye behind extra-large sunglasses. Or sleep, because heaven knows moments of that can be few and far between.
A few weeks ago, I boarded a cross-country flight after a great but sleep-depriving trip and some sad farewells. Because I’d purchased a steerage (*cough* I mean basic economy) ticket, I’d been randomly assigned a middle seat. Oh yay. Internally I began to consider whether or not I could work on my laptop without disrupting my seatmates…or could I journal without them reading over my shoulder?…or should I just nap…
As it turned out, however, a passing comment about being a military kid ended up sparking a lively conversation between me and my seatmates (both Army veterans), and before the plane took off we’d already exchanged more words than I usually do in the entirety of an airport experience. Eventually one moved back to an empty row behind us so we could all stretch out a bit more, but my remaining seatmate and I kept up an intermittent conversation throughout the duration of our 6-hour flight.
With a variety of careers ranging from military captain to IT specialist to self-published author, his resume was impressive. But it was his attitude toward life that really struck me.
“I’ve tried to see the northern lights twice already,” he told me cheerfully, relaying his trips to two different countries. “And would you believe it? Both times it rained the whole week I was there! I only saw one streak of green. So you know what? Next time I’m booking a one-way ticket to Fairbanks, AK and staying there until I see all of the northern lights.”
That sort of resilience, while in this context lighthearted, seemed to earmark most of his pursuits. He’d encountered medical discharge from the military, the loss of a job in exchange for adherence to personal integrity, and – most devastating – the unexpected and sudden loss of a dear wife.
Yet his response? Endurance. Not only had he continued to travel and seek new life experiences after his wife’s passing, but he also had a daughter and granddaughter living with him and proudly shared about how much he loved both of them. Instead of letting hardships cripple him, he chose to respond by pursuing life to the full.
As we parted ways after a surprisingly brief 6 hours, he left me with one final comment –
“Don’t wait [to live life]. We never know how much time we’re gonna have.”
Sometimes being brave is all about sticking with the plan. Sometimes courage means sacrificing now so that we can enjoy the benefits of our hard work later. Sometimes being strong means putting things off so we can have something better later.
But you know what?
Other times, being brave is all about dumping the plan.
Sometimes courage means seizing the day and living in the moment.
And sometimes, being strong means throwing our plans and calendars to the wind and living spontaneously. Being available. Grabbing coffee for a friend even if you have a hundred things on your to-do list. Breathing in the cold air and throwing our arms open to the sunshine. Choosing to live life today because we don’t know how many tomorrows we will be given.
Maybe on my next flight, living life well will mean starting a conversation with someone instead of introverting.
Or maybe it will mean booking a one-way flight to Alaska and staying till I see the Northern Lights.
What does it mean to you?