I wrote an essay for the the local newspaper about my two daughters, Kina and Shornay, who were 12 and 6 years old at the time, as well as the millions of other young children of divorce.
I was moved to write it as a result of an encounter on a flight to Charleston, South Carolina for a corporate leadership meeting. I boarded the flight and settled into my seat in the first row behind the first class section, at the window on the right side of the aisle.
The keynote speaker scheduled for the leadership meeting was a famous motivational speaker and we were each expected to have read his book that we were given when notified of the meeting. I had procrastinated; the book was a thin paperback and I planned to get through most of it on the flight. Prior to takeoff, I had read the first couple of pages when I was interrupted by a soft but resolute voice.
“You’re in my seat”, she snapped. I was startled partly because I was so engrossed in my book, and partly because of her assured tone. None too pleased and certain I was in the right seat I turned toward the indignant voice ready to show her my boarding pass. I stopped suddenly when I saw her: blue eyes, curly yet long blond locks, impeccably dressed…and less than four feet tall, standing in the aisle next to a smiling flight attendant.
Even though I knew I was in the correct seat I asked in a conciliatory tone, “Would you like to sit by the window.”
She peered at me with her icy blue eyes and said, “Yes I would.” The flight attendant obviously aware that I was in the right seat, approvingly smiled as if to thank me for accommodating the little girl. Without responding I got up from the window seat and moved to the aisle. I located my unfinished paragraph and started reading anew. I sensed those piercing eyes trained on me. Then I heard the voice.
“My name is Ashley. Are you going to Charleston?”
“Yes,” I mumbled, barely lifting my head up from my book. I felt her eyes were still on me.
“I threw up the first time I flew on a plane.” This time she got my attention for sure. Ok, why is she telling me this? I turned slowly towards her, warily waiting for her next words. She proudly exclaimed, “I have been flying by myself since I was 5-years-old. I’m 8 now. I don’t get sick anymore.”
Breathing a sigh of relief, I figured I would feign a little interest in my travel companion, then I would get back to my book. I stuck out my hand. “Hi. I’m Mr. Paul. Do you live in South Carolina?”
“I live in two places,” she replied. “I live in Philadelphia and I live in Charleston.”
Ashley is a child of divorced parents. Her mom lives in Philly, and her dad lives in Charleston. What made Ashley’s story particularly heartwarming for me was that beside being so young and seemingly well-adjusted to her situation, my children were members along with Ashley of that group that grows by over a million each year. At least Kina and Shornay did not have to traverse the country to spend time with each parent.
So with two daddy’s girls at home who have also “ lived in two places”, something in Ashley struck a chord with me. We talked non-stop for the rest of the trip. I never got past the first couple of pages of the book I was reading. But somehow I felt a lot smarter when I got off the plane than I did when I got on.