2007-03-25

He's back!

I made it back from New York and Washington DC late last night. It was an amazing trip, exhausting in so many ways, but so fulfilling in so many others. There are many stories to tell and pictures to post, but I do, unfortunately, have to be back to work tomorrow, so I'll make it a quick one.

The capstone of my trip was the flight home. Normally air travel is just a necessary evil, fraught with turbulence, delays, and bored flight attendants. These are typical of flying, but there is one thing, unequivocally, that every traveler fears, and that is sitting next to a baby or small child. It's even worse than sitting next to an obese person who, by they're very nature, continually overflows into your personal space. (They have the right to travel too, don't they? And aren't we all victims of ever shrinking airplane seats?) At least adults understand that their ears will pop, the plane will bump and jostle occasionally, and disturbing noises will emit from the surroundings. To a baby, it must be like slow torture.

But I digress... As I boarded my flight from Dulles to Denver, I first noticed (once I passed the palace of first class) that I was sitting in the center seat, so I would enjoy neither window nor aisle. And when I got to my row, I actually walked right past it, because, in disbelief, I noticed the window seat adjacent to mine was already occupied by a woman and a baby. As I stowed my carry-on, I honestly muttered something mildly profane under my breath. I wondered what I could have done to anger the travel gods to deserve such a fate. Perhaps this was punishment for never turning off my iPod during takeoffs and landings.

But, believe it or not, I'm a pretty amiable guy, and after about an hour into the flight, with the little guy soundly asleep, I asked the woman how old the the child was. This was the only non-offensive question I could think of, as I was hoping the woman would talk a little bit about herself. Normally, I'm not an in-flight talker (there's nothing worse that being trapped in an enclosed space with someone who won't shut up) but, my curiosity was piqued because the baby was very black and the woman very white, and the woman was traveling alone.

The woman then explained something absolutely remarkable. Less than 24 hours previous, the little guy had been in Ethiopia, where the woman had picked him up from an orphanage and was bringing him back to his adoptive family in the United States. It was at this point that I realized I was sitting next to a miracle, a triumph of humanity -- not only by the social worker and the boy's new parents, but by the child himself -- who survived conditions that would be unimaginable to most of the people in the US.

Staring at the sleeping boy, marveling at his tiny hands, all I could think of was the amazing life he had a ahead of him in his new country. I felt an overpowering sense of hope and pride, knowing that there is so much good in people, and that these parents, who would take in this beautiful baby from overseas, were my countrymen. When I thought of this young boy in the context of all the monuments and memorials I had seen over the past week, I stirred with solemn recognition of the true American spirit that had made this boy's journey possible. Despite whatever discontent and political strife that afflicts us today, it's wonderful to live in a place with that offers such hope.