The day started early to the tune of "leaving on a jet plane"... an ear worm that I couldn't shake. It wasn't a long car ride - about one half of an hour on the perimeter toward the Winnipeg airport. I was tired but anticipating a rest on the two hour flight from Winnipeg to Edmonton. I found out fairly late that I would not have to leave the plane but could sit it out while others disembarked and went on to Kelowna or Vancouver. For that, I was grateful. No necessary stops and starts - as close to a direct flight as one could expect on a bargain basement air line where anything other than the seat was al a carte.
I had picked a window seat with the hope that I could do the ostrich thing and pretend that I didn't have neighbors in the middle and aisle seats. I did not want to touch shoulders or talk unless it was absolutely unavoidable.
The couple, when they sat down beside me, were unobtrusive. She took out her knitting and he pulled out a lap top. The woman was tall, slight build with long grey hair pulled back with a clip. Quiet elegance; 1970's, I was thinking . I noticed her long fingers and the ease with which she worked the needles as she stitched. He, on the other hand, had a crazy head of longish white hair and a mustache that matched. From the corner of my eye I could see his hand moving along her leg - she seemed not to notice and carried on with her needle work. He moved his hand along her leg again and turned to her smiling an easy smile - familiar.
She turned to me as he got up to go to the washroom and asked if I was going to Vancouver. No, I told her, this is a trip to Victoria and then to Port Alberni to see family. Me, of course, never able to contain details or refrain from a story, told her about my upcoming 6 weeks of research. We chatted a bit until he came back and sat down. The woman told the man about my trip - he turned to me smiling, intrigued. An artist he asked - I am a scientist he told me. An evolutionary biologist studying or specializing in those little bugs - "you know no-seeums?". "Oh yes. I hate those with a passion", I said.
And so the conversation began. "We are people of faith", he told me. She nodded, looking down at her knitting and smiled. But, he quickly added, not fundamentalists. "I am an evolutionist, after all".
"We have been married 43 years", He said smiling, touching her arm affectionately. She nodded, looking down at her knitting. "We met when I was 16 and he was 19", she said. "We got married three years later and have been together since".
Art and she, Annette, carry their instruments - a flute(hers) and a guitar (his) with them whenever they travel. He is a scientist and she is a neo-natal nurse who travels to Guatemala to work along side Mayan woman to help teach safe birthing - a art lost through war and colonization. They have two adult sons; one adopted. Art speaks proudly about Annette's project in Guatemala. He is amazed at how she has been able to work with people instead of around them. He shares stories of his time in Bolivia He talks about the community and the gift of creation the elders shared with him. through story and art. He says he felt blessed to share in the telling.
We talk about Jesus and fundamentalism. They have found a place in the Catholic community they tell me. They don't get how some people think Jesus would oppose Muslims, gays or the so -called homeless. "I always ask people", Art says, "have you ever had coffee with someone who is gay, Muslim or anyone else you think is different?". He looks at me with head cocked slightly to the side and an amused grin as if I should respond.
We talk about spirituality and the metaphor of the wheel with many spikes/paths. Annette talks to me about birthing. I share some of the story of the birth of my first daughter. She tells me that in Guatemala ,many women die with the same condition that I had at the time I was delivering. In another time and place, I would have hemorrhaged to death, she says. Birthing sharing circles in the community where she works always bring her to tears she admits. I get that this is sacred talk.
Annette keeps on knitting. we discuss embroidery and clay. Annette says that she has been working with clay for years, some hand building and sometimes on the wheel. We smile at each other, seeming to recognize ourselves as kindred spirits - as per Anne of Green Gables.
I can feel my ears popping as the plane starts the descent toward Edmonton. It is getting harder to hear as Art shares "another story". He talks about primates as us - he measures our advances not with technology but with humanity. They tell me about their niece - her and he husband adopting twins. The trial and tribulations. I try to hang on to what they are saying but my ears won't let me. The cabin pressure has taken over.
The plane lands with the usual bump and thud. I hold onto the back of the seat in front of me. Art, Annette and I look at one another smiling. We marvel at the loss of two hours. Art says he was going to finish a bibliography but hat will have to wait now. Annette puts her knitting into her bag - I notice for the first time - the pattern which looks decidedly Guatemalan.
The three of us delight in our meeting. "So glad to have met you", says Art. "Do you have a card?". "No ", I say. He hands me his. Let us stay in touch we all agree. What a lovely meeting. I tell them how much I admire them and their 46 years together. "What a lovely couple you are", I say.
As they get up to leave, I go back to my magazine - feeling the pull of privacy. They speak Spanish to one another as they get up to leave. We say our goodbyes again. I breath a sigh getting myself ready for a quiet time on the next leg of the ride.
A few minutes later, as the next round of passengers start to embark, I notice a white haired woman move toward my group of seats. She takes the seat next to me. An elderly but substantial man sits down next to her. From the corner of my eye, I see him stroke her leg. She hold his hand and the plane starts for take off.