About ten years ago, I was on a plane going west, and a young woman boarded and sat across the aisle from me. I noticed her for two reasons. She was very attractive, and she was holding a teddy bear about half her size. After she sat down, I teased her by asking if she had a ticket for the bear. She laughed and said no, and we settled into the hermetically sealed bubbles that airline passengers adopt to create privacy around themselves.
About halfway through the flight she popped the bubble by leaning over and saying, “I just told that man sitting by the window a lie. He asked me why I was going to Tucson, and I told him to visit relatives, but I am really going to enter rehab.” She proceeded to share her life story with me, which included family issues, abuse, and drug use. She had been working as an exotic dancer, which meant that she took her clothes off for money. That lifestyle had led her down a dark path to drugs, alcohol, and offers of prostitution and pornography. As I listened to her story, I marveled at all she had gone through, and I came to realize that though she was the age of my daughters, she had already lived more in her twenty years than I would ever live.
In spite of all of this, there was a sweet resilience to her, a clarity about what had gone wrong in her life, and a determination to turn it around. I listened to all she shared and told her I was sure she was going to make it, based on her story and demeanor. At the end of the flight, she thanked me for listening to her and told me I had saved her life. I smiled at her exuberance and wished her well.
A few years later, I got a note in the mail saying, “Wow, it’s been five years since we met on that plane taking me to rehab. I thought you might like to know how I am doing. It is amazing how you touched my life. I will never forget you.” She went on to tell me that she had managed to stay away from drugs, had been working for a radio station, and had recently gotten engaged. She felt she had achieved things she could not have imagined that day on the plane. It turned out that I was going to be traveling to the city to which she had moved, and we agreed to set up a time to get together.
When I saw her, she was still the attractive young woman I remembered, but this time she was dressed elegantly, with a poise and confidence found in few twenty-five-year-olds. She hugged me and told me I was her guardian angel and that little conversation we had had turned her life around. She had boarded the plane doubting anything would work in her life, and my affirmation of her as a person and of her possibilities had given her the last bit of strength she needed to work through her problems.
While that exchange had proved to be a spot of grace for her, I think it was an even greater one for me. I am quite sure that I said nothing profound or meaningful on that flight. What made all the difference was taking the time to connect to her, one spirit to another. It reminded me that we are all here to act as angels to each other. What a wonderful job we have been given! And what wonderful gifts we receive in doing that work!