“S’okay. No cry, s’okay.”
I looked up as the rim of my eyes became heavy with a line of salt water. “I’m so sor-”
“S’okay,” she sternly cut me off. She held up a tissue to my nose. “Blow,” she instructed.
I didn’t have time to tell her that when I have a cold I choose to sniffle through the entire week because I hate blowing my nose that much, but I also didn’t really have the right to considering I just, well, puked on her. I blew my nose into her hand as the other flight attendant placed a cold, wet napkin on the back of my neck.
“Merci,” I sheepishly said as my eyes met her. She smiled without showing teeth, squeezed my hand, and returned to cleaning the aisle. I flipped my attention back to the one with the tight ponytail who had disposed of my snot-chunk-filled tissue.
“You’re okay?” she waited for an answer, but it sounded more like a statement in the first place. My head moved up-and-down, betraying me as it nodded, saying what my mouth wouldn’t.
I just puked on a flight attendant. She said it was okay, Erica. All she was trying to do was hold out a bag with her hands and little did she know that this human didn’t know how to aim. It’s okay, Erica. Everyone on the plane knows what happened — puke doesn’t have a hidden smell or sound. S’okay, Erica. Only one of the flight attendants speaks English, how do I apologize so they all understand it? S’okay.
My internal dialogue battled me for a few more minutes until my fever subsided, allowing me to doze off for the final 35 minutes of the flight. It is Sunday, January 14. I’m flying home from a weekend in Paris. Everyone tells me I’m living the dream, but I desperately wish this was one. Somewhere between France and Romania my body felt like turning on me and I did what I’m sure everyone has had on their bucket list for many years — throw-up on an airplane, a flight attendant and up their own nose.
We landed. Everyone on the plane stared at me as I stood up.
I couldn’t blame them, I would be curious who disturbed the peace, too. The French man who had sat next to me in the middle seat — trapped between a Romanian woman with her pug dog occasionally licking his thigh and an American girl throwing up in the aisle — stopped his fake-reading and helped pull my huge blue backpack out from the seat in front of me.
Our eyes met for a brief moment, but long enough for us to both realize that we will be in each others’ stories for the rest of our lives. Embarrassment started breathing on my neck as I started walking down the aisle. With my eyes locked on my purple shoes trotting beneath me, I felt a soft hand grab my wrist as I reached the front of the plane. My head jolted up to see the four flight attendants standing there with open arms, waiting to hug the woman that just tossed her cookies on their aircraft.
I one-armed hugged each of them as I walked off, feeling overwhelmed by their compassion, my inability to express gratitude and the potent stench of my breath.
I just puked all over a woman and she hugged me? I made it a stressful (arguably miserable) day at work for her, and she spent her time assuring and reassuring me that it was okay.
Unable to wrap my mind around it, I came to the only logical conclusion there was: it was not okay. It really sucked. For her and the man in the middle seat and the innocent passengers that got free aromas. Seriously Erica, that is the opposite of okay.
And then I feel it.
The pang that comes when there’s only one word that explains it. The most confusing and sacrificial and outright radical pang. Grace pangs.
In this women’s graciousness, she left me feeling cared for and loved. In the man-in-the-middle’s graciousness, he tried to read knowing that no human likes a spotlight on them when they are ill. In our dear Father’s graciousness, He tells us that it is okay.
Not in a BS way. Not in a fake-it-till-ya-make-it, dust-yourself-off way.
In a real, tangible, eyes-met and heart-held kind of way. It is okay. It will be well.
S’okay if you feel like you cannot be what everyone needs you to be. S’okay if you don’t like your job every minute of each day. S’okay if you don’t know what’s next. S’okay if you are frustrated that your grandparent is gone. S’okay if you miss your ex. S’okay if you yakked on an innocent woman. S’okay to not be okay. S’okay to say you are not okay. It really is.
It is okay because we were never destined for perfection and composure. We were destined for Love. And Love says that it is okay if you don’t believe it right away because that doesn’t change the truth that you are loved. And Love asks us to trust and wait and be honest because that is the only way we realize our dependence. And Love wants us — just us, right now, as we are.
On my best days — the non-puking, Paris-gallivanting, crepe-consuming ones — Jesus is better and on my worst days where everything seems to crumble and shatter, Jesus is better.
So. It’s been a hot sec. Life here has been much, much better than okay, but here is the highlight reel. And, in my loyalty to a prior mentioned promise of trying to teach you all Bulgarian, let’s count down from three. три (tri) . . . две (dve) . . . едно (edno) . . . blast off.
Three countries that have made the past month-and-a-half the best:
- Bulgaria. For obvious reasons including (and not limited to) day-to-day in sweet Silistra, my students, Fulbright midyear conference in Sofia, Thursday night routines with Mari, long walks with Stephie, Sunday afternoons with Ellie, learning how to make banitsa and on and on . . .
- The United States of America. For a break in December complete with McKenna and Jake getting married in Nashville, a near-flawless Christmas minus a short running-water outage, snuggles with the family, friends and (arguably the most important) puppies.
- France. For making all of my middle-school, Eiffel-tower-twirling dreams that came true, the unlimited bread consumption, reminding me of radical, reckless grace and reuniting me with the greatest of college pals.
Three people who deserve awards but will settle for sub-par blog recognition:
- The flight attendant. I mean, could it really go to anyone else? I will never know her name and forever be the most grateful.
- Chris and Jen. I mean, he texted me second-by-second updates of the National Championship game and she FaceTime’d me so I could watch Saban’s post-game speech through her TV on her video camera? I will never understand what I did to deserve friends so loving and committed to making me feel like home is always with me. Oh, roll tide.
- Mari. I mean, who else supports me around the clock whether it be feeding me, listening, advising, and (obviously) VPN-providing? I will never be able to express my gratitude for living in the same city as this woman.
Three things that have reminded me to stop taking my life so seriously:
- When I asked my 12th grade Business English students to write down a skill or qualification they will bring to their future job and one courageous young man wrote down “farting” . . .
- A Bulgarian teacher-friend helping me learn key cuss words (for better classroom discipline obviously) and me giggling like a middle schooler when I pronounced them correctly . . .
- 100% of my students knowing what Black Friday was and maybe 5% knowing what Thanksgiving was . . .
Three things I can get behind:
- Bread stands, say no more.
- Christmas in Europe — think markets, music, and mulled wine.
- Boarding passes that list the Latest Boarding Time, not the earliest you can start boarding. This is what I’ve been waiting for — give me the minimum time on the germ tube.
*This site, E (ericaboden.wordpress.com), is not an official Fulbright Program site. The views expressed on this site are entirely those of its author and do not represent the views of the Fulbright Program, the U.S. Department of State or any of its partner organizations.