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Essays by Karen Anderson: Airport Principle

Illustration by Kacie Brown

If you’re a people-watcher, you probably enjoy airports. Who are all these strangers and where are they going? And here’s the thing: the person who looks vaguely sinister or who has lots of children or an oversize back pack, that’s the one who ends up sitting next to you on the plane.

It’s uncanny, this phenomenon, and I think of it as The Airport Principle. How does the stranger you think strangest end up as your seatmate? It’s an algorithm nobody is revealing. So you might as well strap on your seatbelt and introduce yourself.

Because here’s the other thing: This strange person, the one you least wanted to spend time with, will turn out to be fascinating. To be heading for a job you’ve never heard of in a country you can’t spell. To be managing four young children with an efficiency you never had with one—and on her way to Australia, eleven hours beyond this flight.

The Airport Principle reminds me that the world is bigger than I know and it’s trying to teach me something if I can stop trying to protect myself and pay attention. And I wonder if the same principle will also apply at the entrance to Heaven?

Maybe all the people I never liked will be waiting for me there, ready to provide the guidance I probably don’t deserve.

Karen Anderson contributes "Essays by Karen Anderson" to Interlochen Public Radio.