Wednesday, August 24 , 2016, 3:20 am | Fair 61º

  • Follow Noozhawk on LinkedIn
  • Follow Noozhawk on Pinterest
  • Follow Noozhawk on YouTube
 
 
 
 

Susan Estrich: The Things You Learn on the Flight to San Jose

I am supposed to be working. I have the bags, under the seat in front, full of papers. I am not working. I am listening.

I have a colleague who hates to fly Southwest because he invariably finds himself next to a morbidly obese passenger in the middle seat. This has never happened to me.

I have never found myself next to a morbidly obese passenger. No, I find myself next to mothers who break my heart.

A few weeks ago, the woman next to me said she was going north to have her hair done. For a moment, I indulged myself. Imagine a life where you have the freedom to get on a plane on a Thursday to have your hair done. I felt self-righteous and hardworking, for at least the 90 seconds that elapsed before the woman told me the whole truth. She was also going north to tend to the garden she and her family planted at the site where her 17-year-old son drove off the road and died.

Not just a hair appointment. A memorial garden. I am more sorry than I can say.

Today, my seatmate was on her way to Stanford University, where her daughter is a senior and an athlete, except right now, when she’s in the hospital, as she so often is, because she has cystic fibrosis. She is having sinus surgery today. Her mother and I have a close mutual friend. We have seen each other over the years. Didn’t I know that both her children have serious health problems? I guess I did. I guess I tried not to think about it.

When I was a kid, I heard more than I wanted to about the starving children in India. That their lives were worse than mine gave me perspective, but it never gave me comfort.

Sitting on the plane to San Jose, putting aside the work that suddenly seems not even worth talking about (much less doing), I try to feel like the luckiest woman on the planet.

I am just going to a court hearing, not a surgical suite. When the plane lands, I make sure my seatmate gets out first. She has places to go. I’m just the lucky lady in the aisle seat.

Why is it so hard to hold onto that feeling? Why is it so hard to remember, to feel the blessing of all the things I’m not doing today, all the hardships I’m not juggling, all the pain, etched on my seatmate’s face, delicately but there, that I don’t face?

The woman whose son died told me that her husband had a bad stomach, like me, only his got so bad after losing his son that he had to have awful surgery. Take care of yourself, she told me. Maybe we were meant to meet. I try to hold onto that. As I sip my tea, I try to remember that I am the lucky one, and I am. I know it. But knowing it and feeling it are such different things.

I am back at the airport now. My hearing is over, and I’m heading home. I sit at the airport thinking about the woman I met just hours ago, sitting at her daughter’s bedside, maybe getting some juice, changing the station on the television — life in hospital rooms. I have spent time in that life. I have done my best.

But tonight, I am not there. I am not tending to a sick child or pulling the weeds in a memorial garden. I am the luckiest woman I know. I may not feel that way, not all the time, but I am grateful, and my heart is full.

Susan Estrich is a best-selling author, the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the USC Law Center and was campaign manager for 1988 Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis. Click here to contact her or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

Reader Comments

Noozhawk's intent is not to limit the discussion of our stories but to elevate it. Comments should be relevant and must be free of profanity and abusive language and attacks.

By posting on Noozhawk, you:

» Agree to be respectful. Noozhawk encourages intelligent and impassioned discussion and debate, but now has a zero-tolerance policy for those who cannot express their opinions in a civil manner.

» Agree not to use Noozhawk’s forums for personal attacks. This includes any sort of personal attack — including, but not limited to, the people in our stories, the journalists who create these stories, fellow readers who comment on our stories, or anyone else in our community.

» Agree not to post on Noozhawk any comments that can be construed as libelous, defamatory, obscene, profane, vulgar, harmful, threatening, tortious, harassing, abusive, hateful, sexist, racially or ethnically objectionable, or that are invasive of another’s privacy.

» Agree not to post in a manner than emulates, purports or pretends to be someone else. Under no circumstances are readers posting to Noozhawk to knowingly use the name or identity of another person, whether that is another reader on this site, a public figure, celebrity, elected official or fictitious character. This also means readers will not knowingly give out any personal information of other members of these forums.

» Agree not to solicit others. You agree you will not use Noozhawk’s forums to solicit and/or advertise for personal blogs and websites, without Noozhawk’s express written approval.

Noozhawk’s management and editors, in our sole discretion, retain the right to remove individual posts or to revoke the access privileges of anyone who we believe has violated any of these terms or any other term of this agreement; however, we are under no obligation to do so.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through PayPal below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments.

Thank you for your vital support.



Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >