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Divine Providence at 30,000 Feet

Divine Providence at 30,000 Feet

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"Last call for flight 840 non-stop service to Los Angeles, with continuing service to Buenos Aires." I find my seat and sink into the plush grey leather. I look around. I'm in business class! There must be some mistake. I double check my stub. I'm in the right seat. Should I say something? I didn't pay to be here. On the other hand, it isn't my fault that I was assigned a wrong seat.

I stuff my bag under the seat in front of me, and decide to wait and see what happens.

"Mrs. Tauby?" a voice booms out. "I'm the head flight attendant, and there seems to have been an error. Please find a seat in the economy cabin."

I stand up, trying hard to retain my dignity. I take myself and my belongings into the next cabin.

The entire cabin looks full. Janet, a flight attendant, asks me where my seat is. I explain that I was mistakenly assigned a seat in business class and was asked to relocate to coach. She asks me to wait. Everyone is seated by now. I try not to stand out like a sore thumb.

I look around and notice a woman leaning over the top of her seat. She is motioning to a younger, blonder version of herself, who I assume is her daughter, in the row behind her. I notice that the daughter has three whole seats to herself!

Janet returns and informs me that there are no seats available except for the ones next to the young woman. She asks me to follow her and as I do, I can't help feeling sorry for myself. Moments ago I was being treated like royalty! With this sulky teenager, I'm guaranteed a headache!

Janet walks ahead and stops at the teenage daughter's row. Books, a walk man, a knapsack and blankets are flung across all three seats, the entire middle section of the row, and she's spread out on top of them. Her tan suede hiking boots hang over the armrest into the aisle. She doesn't move when Janet asks her to sit up and choose one seat.

Janet shakes her gently and explains to her that there are no other seats, and that I will have to sit with her until L.A. The girl swears in Spanish. Janet politely asks her to move her belongings. She complies, throwing her belongings on the floor. As Janet leaves to go to her seat for take-off I wonder how I will survive the next five hours?

Over the roar of the engines, my seat mate yells her warning to me, in broken English, not to talk to her as she is going to sleep. I don't intend to talk to her, or wake her, even though her boot is wedged into my thigh. I shift my body as far as I can away from her, trying to get comfortable while her boots jab me in my side.

As we take off, I reach down to get my prayer book to say the prayer for travelers. I feel the weight of her stare on me, but ignore it. When I'm done, I lay back and try to relax, ignoring the throbbing in my thigh. The next thing I know, Janet is standing next to me in the aisle.

She says, grinning, "The flight crew has met, and we want you to go back to your seat in business class. We want you to be comfortable." She says it so loudly that the Spanish lioness sits bolt upright, and quickly assesses the situation.

I follow Janet past the curtain before they consider changing their minds.

"Sorry for screaming, but I wanted her to hear where you were moving to," Janet whispers.

"We want you to enjoy the rest of the flight!" she assures me.

"Thanks," I reply, trying to figure out what I did to deserve this privilege. I sink into seat 7c and sigh. My thigh begins to thaw out. I close my eyes.

When I awake, there is a basket on my armrest filled with fruits. As I reach out to take a shiny red apple, a card falls out. It reads, "Thank you for being such a lady, and sorry for the misunderstanding. The captain and crew of flight 840." Munching happily, I do not notice the tanned, blonde woman standing in the aisle.

"May I sit down for a moment?" she asks, motioning to the vacant seat next to me.

"Sure," I say. "I want to explain about my daughter," she begins. Now I know who she is. Her sad eyes plead with me. "Please, go ahead," I prompt.

"My husband passed away recently, and my daughter took it very hard. I thought if I took her to do some traveling, it would help us get close again and grieve together. She hasn't been the same since he died. I don't know what to do with her, she's angry all the time. I apologize for her behavior."

What could I say? As I gather my thoughts, she continues.

"Carina said that she saw you praying from a Hebrew prayer book." She shows me a gold chain with a Star of David charm. "I'm Jewish too," she announces proudly. "We have never been religious, but we keep all the Jewish festivals."

She sighs and continues, "Carina told me what happened, and that even though she was very rude to you, you didn't fight back. She was amazed at your calmness."

We speak more and I tell her that unfortunately, I know firsthand how hard it is to lose people we love and that everyone grieves differently. Clearly, her daughter needs to talk to a professional. I recommend that she gets her some help and gives her time, as grieving is a gradual process that happens over many years. I give her the phone number of her nearest Chabad family, which is that of my sister-in-law and brother-in-law in Buenos Aires. She promises to contact them.

We spend the last hour of the flight talking and by the time we land in L.A., Rosa has become a friend. As I hug her, she promises to begin to light Shabbat candles again, something she had stopped dong a number of years before. She will invite her daughter, who has never lit candles before, to join her. I assure her it can only help their relationship.

As I exit the plane in Los Angeles and await my flight to Vancouver, I think about the amazing Divine Providence of it all. Now I understand why the events unfolded the way they did.

Esther Tauby is a teacher, lecturer, writer and counselor. She lives on the west coast of Canada with her husband and children.
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jamie magrill richmond, B.C. January 23, 2007

i think that it was a sad story but it was well told. Reply

Esther Tauby Richmond, Canada January 3, 2007

comments Thanks, Karen and Nechama for your comments. I appreciate the feedback, Esther Tauby Reply

Nechama London, UK December 17, 2006

Esther,

You are a modern day heroine - what a kiddish hashem! Thanks for sharing. Reply

karen SF, ca June 22, 2006

Wow! this story brought tears :) Reply

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