The call came on the hectic Friday evening before Christmas. It was from my brother, who lives outside Boston and who had the good judgment to enter a more lucrative field than his sister. He said he had rented two condominiums for the following week in Sanibel, Fla., our parents were going down, there was lots of space and did I want to join them.
I said I would see what I could do. Not only was there the weighty matter of financing the trip, there was also the matter of getting my children cared for in my absence, trying to get all of this sorted out right before Christmas and the matter of flying, which I do not do well or happily, particularly alone. There was also the matter of vacationing without the children, which I had not done in 16 years. All in all, the expedition started out looking like more trouble than it was worth, particularly after my neighbor the travel agent called back with the air-fare costs.
She had, however, booked me on a flight. Suddenly, the expedition was looking serious. I took a hard look at all the problems of doing this and realized I was using them as reasons not to do something rather adventurous. When my children's father agreed to take care of them in my absence, they were delighted and I was out of excuses. Thus began a small tale of triumph over cowardice.
The plane left Washington at 8 a.m., a significant fact because the airport lounge was closed and I had to get on the airplane with only the words of my sister-in-law giving me courage: "Remember," she had said, "the pilot wants to get there as much as you do."
Which, I am happy to report, he did without putting my courage to a test. The flight from Tampa to Fort Myers, however, was another story. My seat was directly in front of a man who was reading aloud to a young girl before takeoff. Very aloud. I opened my novel and tried to read. All I could hear was his voice. He was reading a fundamentalist story about the Scopes trial.
A young woman sitting next to me looked over and made a face. "I'm going to say something," I whispered, but cowardice prevailed. I figured the roar of the engine would drown him out. It did not. There was no question in my mind that the man was being rude. There was also no question in my mind that I didn't want to provoke a scene. "At least it's a short flight," the woman next to me said. "Not short enough," I said. And with that, I reached into my small reservoir of raw courage, peered over the seat and said: "Would you please not read so loudly?" He dropped his voice without missing a syllable.
A few days later, however, I discovered that my reservoir of courage had been used up. My sister-in-law and I were sitting on the beach when a group arrived with a very loud "box."
"I didn't pay all this money to come down here and listen to their music," my sister-in-law announced after a few minutes. "Why don't you ask them to turn it down?"
"Me? Why don't you?"
"Because I'm a coward."
At which point we took the cowardly way out and took a walk along the beach. When we returned, the music was as loud as ever. We sat down. Then she stood up. She looked at the young woman sitting near the box. "I'm going to say something to her." And with that she walked over and said: "Would you mind turning this down?"
"It's not mine," the young woman answered. "It's theirs." She pointed to two very large young men throwing a Frisbee. My sister-in-law summoned up her courage. "Excuse me," she called out. "Would you mind if I turned this down?" I thought that was truly brave. One of the young men approached her. A moment of high drama had arrived. Would he cause a scene? Would she back down? Would we have to move?
"Sorry," he said. "Go ahead."
"Nothing to it," she announced upon her return.
The final episode in this tale of courage occurred on the flight home, which took off in a blinding rainstorm. "Are you really going to try to fly in this weather?" I asked the man at the check-in counter. "We're going to try our best," he answered. I didn't like the sound of that at all.
Weather conditions were so bumpy that the pilot announced they wouldn't be serving drinks. We started to take off. Bumpy was an understatement. A woman looked toward me and gave me a sort of sickly smile of fear, the last kind of smile she needed to get in return. I flashed her a warm smile of confidence. "I'm sure everything will be okay," I said. And she smiled back gratefully.
She should have only known.