I Hadn’t Been Alone At All!

He stood out – literally – he was, like, a foot taller than everyone around him. He had hair the color of copper and an Irish accent.  She stood next to him – coming just below his shoulders – with dark hair and lively eyes and an accent that came from somewhere in the middle of America.  We bonded waiting to get on the airplane – laughing together that we were in the “E” section and would get on last because “they always save the best for last, right?” and “E stands for ‘excellent’, doesn’t it?”

We were bound for Chicago. I mentioned that my husband and I had, just a few weeks before, driven from Seattle to Grand Rapids, Michigan – and had passed by Chicago on our trip. What had taken us five days to achieve then, would take five hours today.  The couple told me then that they lived in Michigan – Kalamazoo, to be exact. I told them I loved the word “Kalamazoo” and the copper-haired man told me that before that he’d lived in another town in Michigan with a native name (maybe Missaukee?). And, he told me, he’d almost taken a job in Australia with a really cool Aboriginal name (maybe Woolgoolga?). I told him he needed to go to Walla Walla next, and he started laughing.

Eventually we boarded the bus that would take us to our plane. There were no seats on the bus and everyone had to find a pole or a bar or a hand-loop to grip during the ride. I was too short to reach the bar above me and all the hand-loops were taken. I was looking around trying to figure out how I was going to keep upright, when the red-haired man saw my dilemma and moved aside so I could grip the loop near him – he was tall enough that he could easily hang onto the bar above us. I’m so grateful to him for that because as the bus worked its way across the tarmac there were a lot of stops and turns and I would have ended up doing a face plant on the floor, for sure, if I hadn’t had something to hold onto.

The bus stopped and we all got out and I quickly found my seat on the plane. Or. I THOUGHT I’d found my seat on the plane until a man tapped me gently on the shoulder and asked me my seat number. I told him and, smiling, he pointed me to a seat a row up and over. “I guess you were wondering where you were going to sit?” I asked, laughing. He laughed, too, and everyone graciously made room for me to move across the aisle. When I got settled I looked up and recognized one of the people who’d been on the bus. She was standing in the aisle next to my seat, waiting to find her own seat. The aisle was kind of clogged up, though, and it looked like it might take a while. Recognizing a person with a sense of humor, I said, “You don’t get a seat. One of those hand loop things is going to drop down from the ceiling and you’ll get to hang on to that for the flight.”  She started cracking up and said that she’d probably get to have the air mask first, though, if those things dropped down.  🙂

The flight was pretty uneventful – there were some air bumps for a while that forced the flight attendants back to their seats – but everyone was really calm about it all, and, in what seemed like no time, our plane had landed at O’Hare.


I had a wonderful day in Chicago – seeing old friends and getting inspired by this year’s speaker at the Christian Science association. I came away feeling revitalized and ready to heal the world.


But first I had to deal with my own neuroses. I’d worked myself into kind of a tizzy.  When I was younger I’d traveled a lot on my own. But as I’ve gotten older most of my traveling has been with family members and friends. And now I felt like I was all alone, trying to figure things out for myself, and it was scary. My thoughts were going around and around in circles something like this: “I’m going to need to get up at 4:30 to catch the shuttle bus to the airport. How do I set the alarm clock? How do I turn it off? What if I sleep through the alarm? What if the alarm doesn’t go off? What if I miss the shuttle bus and then I miss my plane? And… and… what if I can’t find a kiosk to get my boarding pass? And… what if I mess up at the kiosk and can’t get a boarding pass and miss my plane and get stranded in Chicago for, like, ever? And what if the TSA folks think I look suspicious or something and pull me out of the line and I end up missing my plane and… and… how do I set the alarm clock? How do I turn it off? What if I sleep through the alarm…?

You get the idea. Sheesh.

Of course I didn’t sleep well – tossing and turning, my eyes continually going to the clock. I finally dozed off for a couple hours and came to with a start to find that I’d awakened at exactly 4:24.  I got up and set about getting myself dressed and ready. At 4:30 the alarm went off and I pushed the little button and it stopped – just like that. By 4:45 I was joining other folks in the elevator (I thought I’d be the only one getting up at 4:30!) and heading for the lobby. By 5:00 we were all on the bus and heading for the airport. When the people in front of me got off the shuttle at the United terminal I moved to the front so I could hear our bus driver’s voice – it was really deep and beautiful – a James Earl Jones voice – he sounded like he belonged on the radio. I told him this and he started laughing and said that this was the voice he woke up with and it would get higher as the day went on. “This is your morning voice,” I said, nodding. And he laughed and agreed.


(Note: All the employees you’re going to read about who helped me – the lady at the kiosk, the security folks, the vendor who showed me where Starbucks was, and the man who assigned me a seat on the plane, were African-Americans. I always feel this kind of weird self-conscious awkwardness about mentioning a person’s race – like it shouldn’t matter, right? – but at the moment I’m feeling the need to share that all the wonderful folks who helped me at O’Hare were African-Americans.)

The Delta terminal was the next stop. I got off there and as soon as I walked in the door found a kiosk waiting for me. A Delta employee immediately joined me at the kiosk to help me get my boarding pass. She asked me for my confirmation number and I showed her the teeny tiny letters on my phone and asked her if she could read them because I couldn’t make them out without my glasses. She laughed and said she needed her glasses, too, and quickly pulled them from a pocket and put them on to read the number to me.  She soon realized it would go faster for us if she just punched the number in herself – so she did that for me. I made some comment about “women of a certain age” helping each other and she started laughing with me in middle-aged sisterhood. Soon she’d printed out my boarding pass for me, found out what gate I needed to go to, and pointed me that direction.

When I got in line for security I expected to have to go through that cubicle where you have to put your arms up and the body scan dealy checks you out. But this time the security people pointed me into a line where I got to by-pass the scanning machine altogether. That was cool.

And so there I was – safe and sound on the other side of security. All the things I’d been so nervous about were now behind me and looked ridiculous to me from this vantage point. I could feel the Cosmos laughing with me.  I imagine the Cosmos finds me pretty entertaining.

Next it was time to find a Starbucks. I stopped at a small vendor of cheeses and fruit and asked her if she could point me to the nearest Starbucks. She looked up at me with a kind of exasperated disbelief and pointed behind her – “Right there,” she said. I saw that the Starbucks was right next to her! Humbled, I said, “Oh, thank you! Sheesh.” A stunning African-American woman – she looked like a competent, confident put-together lawyer – happened to be walking by us as this exchange was going on and she looked over at me, a grin on her face, and said, “I heard that.” I laughed with her and told her I was embarrassed, and went to fetch my pumpkin spice latte with whip. Once I had that familiar cup of latte in my hand I went back to the fruit and cheese vendor and bought myself a snack for the plane ride. The vendor graciously thanked me for my business and I thanked her, again, and went to sit in the waiting area.

I had been given a boarding pass without an assigned seat. So when the man appeared behind the podium I went up to him to get a seat. And oh! – he was so fun! I told him I needed a seat – and he grinned and pointed to the row of seats behind him – joking – and then he asked some quick questions, made some snappy small talk as he clicked away on the keyboard – et voila! I had a window seat!

I found a place to sit and, as the waiting area started getting more crowded, I picked up my bags and made room for Mike and Lisa, a middle-aged couple from Indiana. I really enjoyed talking with them. Lisa had arranged an Alaskan cruise for her husband and herself. They were going to visit all the places my husband and I had visited when we went up the Inside Passage seven years ago – Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, Sitka – and we talked about all the cool things they were going to see. This was Mike’s first-ever airplane ride. In fact, he told me he’d just had his first-ever train ride, too. In FACT, they’d already taken a car, a bus, and a train to get where they were. “Trains, planes, and automobiles,” I said, and they laughed and said “exactly.”

When it was time to get on the plane I stopped at the podium and made sure to let the man who’d assigned me a seat know how much I’d enjoyed listening to his comedic patter over the microphone as we lined up for boarding. He grinned and thanked me and wished me a good flight.


I got my window seat and spent the first half of the flight looking out the window and watching a movie on the screen in front of me. Towards the end of the flight I got into conversation with Eliana, the young woman seated next to me. I’d noticed she was taking an online college course, and shared with her my experience as a high school teacher. We talked about what she’d like to do when she gets out of school – she said she’d like to be a fashion designer – and I could totally picture her doing that. I told her she could name her line of clothes “Eliana” – and that I expected to see her fashion designs out there in a few years.


The plane landed a half hour early. I’d left rain in Chicago, and landed in rain in Seattle. There was something very symmetrical and pleasing about that.

As my husband drove me back home, I started thinking about all my ridiculous worries and the fear I’d had of being all on my own, trying to figure things out by myself – and I suddenly realized that I really hadn’t been alone at all! The entire trip I’d had people stepping up to help me out – to give me directions, to make room for me, to laugh with me.

How blessed we are to have each other on Life’s journey!



The Madcap Christian Scientist’s Excellent Adventure

sailboarder on Lake Michigan - photo by Karen Molenaar Terrell

sailboarder on Lake Michigan – photo by Karen Molenaar Terrell

I was scared to go, but I was even more scared to stay. Yeah – I’m happy to report that I realized the idea of being stuck in a rut was even scarier to me than the idea of putting myself into what is, essentially, a can with wings and crossing 2,000 miles across the continent.

In the years before I was married I’d done a lot of solo traveling – long drives and flights to new adventures and friends.  But after I married, I gradually started traveling less and less by myself – a change so gradual, in fact, that  I hadn’t realized until recently that it had been, like, eight years since I’d taken a flight by myself.  I’d grown used to traveling with a partner. The idea of launching myself on a flight to Chicago without someone else there to help me retrieve the electronic ticket, remember my passport and boarding pass, find the shuttle bus to the hotel at the end of the flight, and remember to gather up all my luggage at every stop – this was all pretty daunting to me.

But if I didn’t make an effort to have this solo adventure I would be admitting that I’d somehow, sometime, crossed over an invisible line that separated the fearless travelers from the scaredy-pants rut-clingers – and the idea of THAT terrified me.

And so I went.

I left work early on Friday and began my epic odyssey by traveling the 80 miles from my job to Sea-Tac Airport in Seattle.  This part of my adventure actually ended up being the most challenging part of the whole enterprise. Everything was good until I reached north Seattle where I found myself trapped on I-5, dragging along in stop-and-go traffic.  I thought I’d left work with plenty of time to make it to the airport, but as I eked along I began to worry that I wouldn’t get there before my flight took off.

And then I consciously let go of the worry – whatever happened, I told myself, I’d be alright. If I missed the plane, I missed the plane – and I’d just catch another one. Nothing is outside the control of Love, and everything is moving in harmony with Love, I reminded myself.  I mentally became still, listened to my Allison Krauss CD, and let myself be guided through the traffic by Love’s direction.

I was stuck in that 10 mile traffic jam for an hour. The joy and gratitude I felt when I finally broke through to the other side of the clog and was able to take my foot off the brake is indescribable.

I had decided to park right in the airport’s parking lot, and on the fifth floor found an open space marked C-17.  Remembering one’s parking space number is kind of a big deal in the Sea-Tac garage (I just googled and found that there are more than 9,000 parking spaces there), so as I unloaded my backpack and headed for the elevators I kept repeating under my breath “C-17, C-17, C-17…”

Retrieving the electronic ticket for my Alaska Airlines flight to Chicago was quick and easy; my ticket was marked “Pre” – which meant I’d already somehow been pre-checked – and I was ushered into quicker lines through security – didn’t have to take off my shoes or take anything out of my bags – the whole process from getting into the end of the line through the checkpoint probably took five minutes – and then I was told to go to gate C-17 to catch my flight. So now I was saying “C-17, C-17, C-17” for my flight’s gate number and at some point that merged with my garage parking space in my mind. (This would come back to bite me in a couple days.)

I’d been assigned a window seat, and as the plane took off and headed east, captured some pictures of Mount Rainier sticking up above the clouds – all majestic and beautiful.  Every time I look at that mountain it brings back happy memories of climbing it – it is a symbol of “home” to me – so being able to see it, up-close like that, was very cool. The flight was uneventful, the pilot friendly and honest  -“We’re going to be experiencing some bumps up ahead, so please keep your seatbelts buckled – we should be through it in ten minutes…” – and my fellow passengers  pleasant companions in the winged can.

We arrived in Chicago near midnight. I’d read that at midnight the half-hourly shuttle service to my hotel ended, and I’d have to call the hotel to get the shuttle out to pick me up. I was worried about this part – how did that work, exactly? Would I end up walking to my hotel? And would that be, like, safe?  But when I got to the door where my hotel’s shuttle bus picks up passengers, the shuttle was sitting there waiting for customers, and the driver gave me a cheery welcome to Chicago and motioned me on board.  After a quick ride to the hotel with some young chiropractors in need of french fries and cocktails, and headed to some chiropractoring workshop at the hotel, I finally laid me down to sleep at one in the morning.

I didn’t set my alarm – I decided I would just sleep until I was done sleeping – and if I was late to my meeting, so be it. But I woke up at 7:30, got dressed, packed up my backpack, and went downstairs in search of vittles.

I have not yet explained why I was making this epic journey to Chicago, have I?  Years ago – back in 1981 – I took Christian Science class instruction in Chicago. Class instruction is where a Christian Scientist is taught how to be a Christian Science practitioner – it signifies a commitment to the healing practice of Christian Science.  Every year those who have passed through class instruction meet together once again with their teacher and classmates to review and renew their understanding of the practice of Christian Science.  I had made dear friends during class instruction – the year I went through class almost all of us were involved in the arts somehow – there were artists, musicians, writers, photographers – really gifted people amongst my classmates – and pretty much everyone who’d had class with my teacher had a well-developed sense of humor, too (my teacher had been a real character, with a love for laughter and fun). I was looking forward to seeing my classmates again, and I was also very much looking forward to meeting for the first time another Christian Scientist who lived in Chicago and whom I’d met on Facebook – she was going to join me for lunch at noon.

So as I went downstairs for breakfast I began scanning faces to see if I could see anyone I knew – and almost immediately I saw my friend, Mary – I would be spending that night with Mary and her husband, Kevin, who had been a classmate of mine.  Mary told me where the meeting was going to take place that day, and showed me how the buffet worked, and I was good to go.

Our teacher passed away some time ago, but the speaker at this year’s Association meeting had been one of his students – though in a different class than mine. Todd did a wonderful job – he shared stories of our teacher that had us chuckling in fond remembrance – and addressed concerns that many of us share about the world and our place in it.

At lunch I went out to the lobby – all excited to meet my new friend, Patricia, for the first time in the person.  Soon she came breezing through the door – beautiful and smiling – we gave each other a big hug and then sat down to enjoy a lunch together. Our waiter was a man named Hagi – and Hagi was wonderful – he brought us each free cups of tomato soup before serving us our respective meals, chatted with us about different restaurants and the best prepared beets he’s ever had, and his experience working on a cruise ship. And Patricia was… she was just this amazing reflection of energy and life and joy.  She shared her story – the time in her life when she was in transition between the old and the new – and how she came to find Christian Science.  The hour I spent with her was perfect in every single way.

After the afternoon meeting I went home with Kevin and Mary, and met their daughter, Alyssa, who’d just recently returned from Japan where she’d had a stint as a teacher. We went out to a Mexican restaurant where a lady made us fresh guacamole as we watched and put the exact ingredients we wanted in there – that was very cool. And after dinner, we drove down to the beach of Lake Michigan and hung around there for awhile, and then came back to Kevin and Mary’s home, where Alyssa shared photos of her travels – really great pictures of life in Japan.

I woke up early the next morning and read for a little while. Then I got dressed and walked the mile or so from Kevin and Mary’s home to Lake Michigan. I love the gracious old homes in Evanston – domes and turrets and curved doorways and windows and paned glass.  I enjoyed, too, the squirrels bouncing off every branch and scrambling up every trunk – their cheeks full of nuts and seeds.  Lake Michigan looked beautiful in the morning light – there were bands of emerald and jade and turquoise to the horizon, and a sailboarder launched his board into the water and set sail along the lake’s shore.

Soon after I returned to the house it was time to head for the airport. Mary had graciously agreed to drive me to the Alaska Airlines departure area, so I didn’t have to worry about shuttle busses that morning. We stopped at a Starbucks on the way, for a last chat about life – I enjoyed that very much – and then, too soon, I was at the airport, giving Mary a hug good-bye.

Now that I’d already had some experience with the electronic ticketing kiosk, I felt pretty confident about retrieving my return ticket. But the Alaska Airlines kiosk could find no record of me. This was a little disconcerting – until, looking down at my itinerary, I realized that on my return flight I would not be traveling with Alaska Airlines, but with American Airlines. Ahem. Yeah.  So I made my way to the American Airlines kiosk – where records of my return trip were actually found – Haleleujah! – and then, once again, was quicky able to pass through the security area, and make my way to the departure gate.

I was unloading my laptop in the waiting area when I glanced to the left and saw…  could it be? No. Yes. It was! There was a former teaching colleague of mine – he’d actually been my student teacher years ago – sitting in the waiting area at O’Hare airport with his wife.  Richard was totally out of context there, and it took several moments  for my brain to register that this man I knew from Skagit County in Washington State was sitting in an airport in Chicago.  We took a quick picture together for Facebook, and then I left Richard and his wife to their own space while I went to work on down-loading my Evanston photos onto my computer.

When we were allowed to board, I quickly found my seat on the plane in the middle of a row of three (these seats were only the second row behind the bulkhead and had more leg room – which was really nice for the long-legged people who were sitting next to me). Sitting on my right was a man busy with his cellphone, and to my left was an empty seat. I stowed my backpack under the seat in front of me and then watched the other passengers board – wondering which one of them was going to turn and look at the seat next to me and claim it. I really, really hoped this person would be hygienic and either easy to talk to, or easy to ignore.  And finally he appeared – a tall blond man with a friendly smile. The man to my right and I stood up so that he could squish himself in there next to the window.  And then, I could not help myself, the words just tumbled out of my mouth with heart-felt relief: “I’m so glad you guys don’t smell!” They both started laughing. The man on my right agreed with me that it was probably a good idea to take care of one’s hygiene before getting on a plane crammed with people, and the man on my left said that he’d just gotten off an eight-hour flight from Europe and was relieved to know he didn’t stink.

It did not take long for us to settle in comfortably with each other. And just as we did, another passenger entered the plane, smiled at me sort of apologetically, and showed me that I was actually sitting in his seat, and that my seat was on the other side of the plane.  He intuited right away, though, that some kind of bonding had already happened between the three of us, and offered to change seats with me.  The seat he ended up in was a nice roomy window seat right behind the bulkhead, with an empty seat in-between him and the other passenger in his row – so I think we were probably both blest in this exchange.

I do not believe I have ever been seated between two more congenial strangers on a plane. As it turns out, the man on the left was from Ireland, and the man on the right was returning to Seattle after a jaunt to New York to root on The Sounders soccer team, and they were both employed in the technology field.  I can no longer remember all that we talked about – I know there was mention of music (the Sounders supporter and I are both huge Allison Krauss fans, and the Irishman is a jazz musician), movies (O Brother, Where Art Thou came up) and books (1984 and James Joyce’s Ulysses were mentioned – I think we’d all stalled out on Ulysses), travels and hikes and climbs and other assorted adventures were shared.  I made two new friends on that plane ride – unlikely friendships, to be sure – I was old enough to be the Irishman’s mother – and the Sounders supporter was probably only 10 or 15 years older than the Irishman ; they were both techno-wizards, while I… am not; and they are both, well, men.  But it was such a blast sitting between these guys. We talked pretty much non-stop for four hours! I’ve never known a plane ride to go so fast!

We shook hands and exchanged linked-in information with each other at the end, and then parted for our separate journeys.

Which brings me back to the parking garage. So, as you may recall, my gate number and parking space number had been the same – but now, as “C-17” came into my thoughts and I remembered that had been my gate number, I started doubting that “C-17” was also my parking space number. I mean. What would be the odds, right?  So I got off the elevator on the fifth floor – because at least I remembered for sure what floor I was parked on – and began to wander in the direction I remembered coming from when I’d arrived. I was sort of looking for C-17 – but not with complete confidence about it all. I wondered how long it might take me to go down every parking lane on the floor before I found my car. I could be there days.  Would archaeologists someday unearth my body from the farthest reaches of the parking garage and make up really cool stories about how I had ended up there?

Of course, it only took me five minutes to find my car, to see with a grin that I was actually parked in a space with the same number as my gate number, and to start winding my car out of the garage and back onto the highway.

The expressway was open on I-5 and the return journey home was quick and smooth.

As I was driving home it occurred to me that I’d never been traveling solo. All along the way Love had been preparing the way for me – bringing me safely to my friends, introducing me to new friends, and putting me exactly where I needed to be when I needed to be there.

As I pulled into my little enclave in Bow, I remembered the rose plant I’d saved from a road construction site the week before and remembered that I hadn’t watered it before I’d left. Had it survived the weekend? So the first thing I did when I pulled-up to my home was grab a watering can and head for the rose bush. Once it was watered,  I wandered up to the back deck and started watering the plants up there.  And that’s when my husband, phone in hand, saw that I was home. He came out onto the deck, laughing, and said to his mom – who was on the other end of the phone – “Karen’s home! She’s out on the deck watering plants!… Nope, she didn’t come in through the front door… nope, not sure when she got home… yup… you want to talk to her?”

And so I arrived back into the bosom of my family holding a watering can.

The End.