On March 12, 1992, I boarded a plane that was flying from Salt Lake City to San Diego. This flight was just another one of my weekly trips to California. I had made such trips for the past several years.
The airport staff made seat assignments for this flight. By the time I arrived at the gate, only the middle seats were left. I asked if there were any first-class seats available. I hoped to upgrade my ticket and try for a peaceful snooze on the flight. After the usual hustle and bustle that always accompanies leaving home, I was already tired. I had scheduled one day of media appointments and three days of performances ahead of me. Along with these appointments and performances, I also anticipated a 4:30 a.m. call on my last day in California to do the ABC Home Show at Universal Studios. Every minute of my next four days was packed. By the time I arrived at the airport, I was already trembling with exhaustion.
Learning that there were no first-class seats available, I boarded the plane and took up residence in a dreaded middle seat.
I stuffed all my bags under the seat in front of me and also in the already-crowded bin above me. Then I sat in my middle seat, poised for a smooth takeoff. No sooner did I get settled than the seven-year-old boy sitting by the window seat reached his hand out in front of me, motioning for the flight attendant? I couldn’t help but smile. With all of the hubbub of last-minute flight preparation, there was no way in the world that this little boy could somehow summon the attention of a flight attendant by simply waving an index finger.
I asked him, “Can I help you?” He said, “I need to know her name.” The 50-year-old gentleman on my right and I began the process of trying to read the name on the flight attendant’s name tag as she whizzed up and down the aisle. She passed us three or four times before we employed concentrated effort and were then able to make out her name and pass it on to the boy.
Flights are almost always a special time of rest for me, but, on this day, as the plane took off, my little friend turned to talk to me. He told me he was on his way to visit the Magic Kingdom and Shamu the whale. His enthusiasm for his forthcoming adventure lifted my spirits. As it turned out, the man on my right and I realized we had previously met at the Osmond Studios in Orem, Utah, a number of years earlier, when I did a commercial there for Ziploc bags.
As we took off, my little friend said, “My name is Tony,” and I said, “My name is Dian.” Those few words were the beginning of an incredible conversation. When I talked to Tony, I would slip into my seven-year-old guise; when talking to Wally, the man on my right, I would slip into my more mature businesslike persona. The experience was like traveling down a highway with two different but equally beautiful views on either side.
As we buckled up for the landing, Tony asked, “Do you know what a pen pal is?” I said I did. He said, “Have you ever had a pen pal?” I told him I had one in grade school. With an enthusiasm only a seven-year-old can muster, he said, “Will you be my pen pal?”
I got off the plane feeling refreshed and ready for a busy afternoon. In one short but delightful flight, I had gained both a pen pal and a lunch date. It was a middle seat I’ll never forget.
Life is an incredible journey that we create from moment to moment.
The options are numbered, but the opportunities are endless. Just as Tony created an instant pen pal and won a piece of my heart, we each create our days one experience at a time.