Saturday, March 29, 2008

Flight of fancy

South Bend Regional Airport, yesterday afternoon

On the first leg of my two-flight trip to South Bend, Ind., to speak at Notre Dame's Edith Stein Project conference, a little girl of about seven took the window seat next to me while her mother and older brother, who looked to be eight or nine, sat in the row behind. I offered to move to accommodate them, but the mom said it wasn't necessary.

Her daughter agreed emphatically. "My brother and I don't get along," she said, with the brutal simplicity that reminded me of J.M. Barrie's writing in Peter Pan that children are "gay and innocent and heartless."

The girl was adorable—whip-smart and ditzy at the same time—utterly foiling my plans to doze during the 80-minute flight by keeping me engaged at tic-tac-toe, Hangman (my idea, as scrawling "O"'s to her "X"s got tiresome), and Sudoku (at which she was much better than I, though we both would have done better with a pencil than a pen).

When I told her I was an author, she asked what my book was about. That gave me pause, as I never before had to explain The Thrill of the Chaste to someone young enough to legitimately tote a stuffed bunny rabbit.

"It's, um, for women who want to get married but haven't met their husband yet," I said. "Sometimes they get lonely, and my message is that they shouldn't focus on what they're missing. Instead, while they're waiting to meet the right one, they should do things that make them happy, like make new friends, learn hobbies, and enjoy life ..."

She chimed in, "Like, if you've always wanted to go to Italy, you should go to Italy!"

"Yes, that's exactly right!" I exclaimed, utterly bemused.

How did that little girl know that my number one travel wish right now is to visit Rome?