Getting from Austin, TX to Brattleboro, VT ended up taking two days and four connections. A month earlier I’d driven in the same direction from Houston and the little yellow car’s engine coughed and spluttered terribly, cutting out whenever I hit 70 mph. That had turned out to be a tankful of bad gas and this was a shortage of airline crew, but it was starting to feel like Texas didn’t want to let me go.
In Austin I’d been a part of the University of Texas’s Summer Institute, and commented in a workshop that we don’t only see children in personal and professional lives, but also everywhere we go in the world. I’d said how everyone could benefit from an awareness of children’s play, even if it only meant they were kinder to a child fussing on the bus. And now, in 38A to my 39B, a small boy began to cry.
He’d dropped an important toy at takeoff, which I later spotted and fished out from between the feet of my sleeping neighbor to the right. There was been some peekaboo between him and my neighbor to the left, a sweet grandmotherly type who wiggled her fingers over the reclining seat back. The plane had begun its descent when turbulence throw us back up into the air. We bounced, and my neighbor to the right startled awake. The boy began to howl and all around us the air clenched. I imagined the other adults felt torn as I did, hating the noise and not wanting to hate the child. Could he feel our response, as screams lifted in pitch and volume? His despair took words. “I wanna go hoooooome,” he wailed, from the red center of his being. He was surprised and silenced when all those same adults suddenly burst into laughter all around him.
“You and me both,” said one neighbor, while the other one nodded slowly. “Sing it, kid,” someone said behind me.
We’d all hated the sound of his screaming, built a mental wall against our own reaction, but suddenly that changed. We shared a feeling of being trapped together in a flying tin can, when we’d all far rather be home. By naming it, this boy had brought us together, and the first thing we did was laugh in recognition.