Mostly, I remember her eyes. Big and bright, looking up, searching my face, studying my eyes, and then turning away from the exit door of my airliner, and tentatively moving toward me, her arms opening wide. As a father of three, and grandfather of five, one would think I’d have instantly deduced her purpose. But standing in the cockpit doorway, at the end of a thirteen-hour flying day, saying yet another round of goodbyes to my passengers, I was far less than my most alert self.
Just in time, I crouched low and folded her in, saying “Thank you. You’re so sweet. Thank you for the hug.” Trailing behind, toting their carry-on luggage, her mother just smiled down at us and waited. A few seconds later, the little girl let go and stepped back, looked me in the eyes again, then waived a tiny wave and walked off, her mother following along. The next few passengers also smiled at me, smiled at the wonderful captain who’d hugged the little girl. I nodded at each of them, feeling pretty good about myself. Soon the plane was empty, and my copilot and I did all the things that pilots do to put an airplane to bed. An hour later, I fell asleep in my hotel room, still thinking about that hug.
As the four-day trip wore on I repeatedly recounted this small tale of joy. Made every flight attendant smile. They asked questions. How old? What color hair? What did her mother do? But as I tried to remember all those other details, I kept recalling the little girl’s face, her eyes searching mine…and then came her offer? Yes, her offer…of a hug. And I suddenly knew that the hug wasn’t for her. The hug was for me. Some children are born older, wiser, come with a built-in compassion. Even now, as I recall not only her face, but her mother’s, I see in the memory of her mother’s face a resolved knowing, an acceptance that her child just did these things. Her little girl already connected with people, saw their needs. Just as she saw my fatigue, and knew that she had precisely what I needed, a great big hug.
She was right. I was dead tired. Tired of that day and tired of my job. After more than thirty-four years in cockpits, I was simply tired of flying. But the next day, I wasn’t. I woke up remembering her warm hug, felt energized, renewed, all from a little girl’s embrace.
I don’t know her name, but this little soul has already left a mark in this world. She warmed me then. Her memory warms me now. We so often wonder what is the purpose of our life? Sometimes, we think that we haven’t done something big enough, great enough. But maybe our purpose is simpler, like giving hugs. A hug is a pretty good legacy. No, it’s a great legacy. I’m so glad that I have some time left in my life to give a few.
What does this have to do with writing? Nothing, I suppose. Except that, beneath September’s full moon, a little girl’s hug dominates this author’s thoughts, as does the idea that fiction writing is nothing more than an attempt to connect, to tell a story that despite its many terrible twists and turns, its desperate lows, it all somehow turns out okay. In the end, justice prevails, or the villain repents, or love quietly endures. And in those final chapters, if the writer has completely connected, the reader gets that warm hug, and faith is renewed.
Steam of consciousness quote:
“Faith is the bird that feels the light when the dawn is still dark.”–Rabindranath Tagore