I'm not a frequent flier by most people's standards, but I do love to travel. After one trip, I told my husband about a conversation I had with my seatmate. His response was: "People don't like to talk on the plane. That's why I wear my headphones and pretend to fall asleep--because I don't like people to talk to me."
|U.S. Air Force dog Venice and her handler.|
Then earlier this month, I traveled to Denver to visit my niece. On the way there, the guy next to me completely ignored me and I returned the favor, catching up on some reading and attempting to complete the Mensa challenge in American Way magazine. On the return flight, my new seatmate had his headphones in, so I took that as code for "don't talk to me" and I didn't. Then as I unwrapped a sandwich I knew I'd only eat half of, I noticed he was headphone-free and so I offered him the other half. Over the next 45 minutes, we talked over our shared sandwich.
After the perfunctory "why are you headed to Dallas?" exchange, he started telling me about his recent discovery: At the age of 45, he found out he's adopted. I won't share all the details about his story because I'm hoping to see it in print one day, but what I took from our conversation seems pretty profound. Along with "everyone has a story to tell" being a generality, the circumstances surrounding his adoption, upbringing, revelation, reunion and reconciliation were nothing short of amazing and made me appreciate how real life is often more compelling than any novel.
Our encounter made me excited about storytelling. Years ago after a trip to meet his mother's extended family in India, he returned with photos. His wife said then, "You're adopted. You look nothing like these people." It would take a health scare and subsequent blood test to reveal a genetic condition that led him to ask his father if he was adopted. His father held fast and denied it, even when my seatmate said he threatened to submit a DNA sample for testing. When the results confirmed he wasn't even the same race as his parents (his mother was now deceased), his father finally acquiesced with "I guess the cat's out of the bag now." Apparently his adopted mother made his father swear to take the news to the grave.
Having discovered his birth-family only within the past few weeks, his enthusiasm was palpable, and it reignited in me the notion that you can have extraordinary circumstances in a story as long as you can tell it so others believe it could happen. I'm a huge fan of a well-told memoir. This time, I got to hear someone tell theirs to me in person. The next time someone has a story to share, will you be a good listener? The next time you have a story to share, will you be a good writer?