To speak or not to speak? The Story of Lucy Daniels

Yesterday, while flying home, I encountered the most uncomfortably out-going pair of strangers. Neither was particularly skilled in small talk, so their intimate conversation halted and jerked forcibly. They talked about religion, evolution/creationism, their respective separation and divorce, and their former spouses. Each string of conversation would sputter and die, until silence fell on them–then one would start up the conversation again–desperate to fill the silence. They told stories without some kind of conclusion, just filled the airspace with the content of their lives.

I thought to myself–I will write my blog post on the plane about how talking to strangers is the most terrible thing that could happen to me at an airport. I really hate people intruding on my personal space bubble when I don’t want them to. That’s why I’m wearing earphones people…

When I found my seat in row 6, I also found an elderly woman of about 70 sitting in the window seat next to mine. I knew I was doomed. As I predicted, she prattled on about the endless line of planes. It was an accurate complaint, we had been idling on the runway for at least a half an hour at that point, but I found it annoying nonetheless. Can’t she see I’m reading?

Well, it’s rude to let someone talk without speaking back, so I picked my head up from my book (no laptops out at takeoff) and agreed, before letting my face drop again. I couldn’t even read, I was so concentrated on wishing that it would be the end.

Well, she talked with me some more, about where I was coming from, where I was going, if I lived in Richmond, all of the above. I softened to her partly because she really was engaging and partly because she looked so much like my own grandmother. I had actually noticed her likeness while waiting to board–“that could be gran 10 years ago!”

As we talked, I found out that her husband died last July and she had just spent the summer in Maine at their summer home. They had been going to Maine for–as much as my math can tell–nearly 40 years. For about 20 of those years they had their own home which they had fixed up together. Since Bill’s death, (as she reverently told me) she had been a bit lonely. The house became too much to handle. Her friends worried about her when she left parties alone at night. She couldn’t take the boat out on the water because he always drove the boat. Not to say she was totally devastated, she still talked happily about her children and the wonderful summer she had in Maine. In general, she smiled and overflowed with happy memories and concluded of Bill, “a good life.”

In the beginning of our conversation I realized that I needed to hear this woman simply because she so needed someone to listen. Although I’m not a natural listener, the conversation turned out to be just as much a pleasure to me as it was to her. And I condemn my arrogance–for thinking I was better off without her company. I wondered about the pair of strangers, if they didn’t care whether their conversation made sense, or if the listener even sympathized with their words–perhaps they just needed a witness.

Her name was Lucy Daniels, and when we landed she wished me a good year at Amherst. She said she hoped to see me around (which, in Richmond, is pretty likely, she lives just a few minutes away from me, and we even had mutual acquaintances). When I left the baggage line, we both turned around and waived. If you’re reading this, thanks Mrs. Daniels!