I flew from Halifax to Saskatoon last week. Six adorable things occurred during this journey by sky. Let me break it down for you, in chronological order (rather than in order of cuteness level—I’ll leave that decision up to you).
1. A children’s choir sang off-key Christmas carols in the Halifax airport. Thanks, Halifax, for making my Burger King veggie burger slightly more enjoyable; I wasn’t eating cardboard, I was eating cardboard to the dulcet tones of forty petrified schoolchildren in robes, accompanied by the applause of numerous grannies and grandpas, traveling to see family as the holidays begin.
2. I saw a rainbow on the tarmac. It wasn’t a double rainbow, but it was a very pretty rainbow nonetheless—and a refreshing change after the last few weeks of dark clouds and rain. Here’s a photo:
3. The flight attendant recognized me. First, he asked whether I worked for the airline. I don’t. Then he asked whether I’d flown with them before. Yes, I had. Multiple times, in fact. So that’s cool. Also, he was reading Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (which I like).
4. At the end of my first flight, the flight attendant announced that a certain person in seat number something was giving everyone on the plane an early Christmas present: our boarding passes would get us free pedicures at any Hummingbird Spa in the country. So that’s also cool.
5. While I was changing planes, the Toronto airport made regular announcements that the flight to the North Pole was now boarding at gate something-or-other. This confused me at first, because I had never heard of any such flight being possible. Then I overheard a gate agent explaining to her colleague that the airport did this as a gesture of cheer for the children traveling during the holiday season. How cute.
6. I was seated next to Chief Donald Sayazie of the Black Lake first nation, with whom I ended up having a two-hour conversation about all sorts of things. It’s not every day you get to converse with a seasoned aboriginal chief (he’s been in office for 25 years).
He told me about week-long hunting expeditions into northern Saskatchewan and the Northwest Territories; the hunters (and one white woman, a scientist) travel by snowmobile (they must bring gasoline with them) and sleep in tents set into the packed snow.
Chief Sayazie was on his way home from land claims negotiations with the federal government in Ottawa; apparently certain caribou hunting grounds were partitioned off to Nunavut when it became a province in 2001. Ten years later, they’re still negotiating. He said:
Yes, I have traveled a lot. I travel, but mostly I talk. Always there are meetings and talking! But in my travels I have met some very nice people, such as yourself. The talking is much easier, for everyone, when there is respect. We must all show respect to one another. This is what I have learned in my travels. Also that it is good to see the world, but it is good to come home!
We talked further about respect and understanding, and we concluded that there can only be hope and progress—in anything—when humans see one another as the same, and as brothers. I shared this quotation with him:
Do not be content with showing friendship in words alone, let your heart burn with loving kindness for all who may cross your path.
—’Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks (page 16/17)
“Yes,” he replied. “We must lift each other up.” He responded with an anecdote about encouragement:
I was sitting in my office and I got a call. I picked up the phone and someone asked for a name. “You have the wrong number,” I said. “This is Chief Sayazie.” The voice on the phone was a young woman and she said “Oh, Chief! I didn’t know it was you! Thank you for everything you do. We love you!”
“We love you”. These are strong words. They lift you up.
After this, the Chief taught me a few words and phrases in his people’s language, Dene. We agreed that it was only useful to learn “good words”—why is it that children only want to learn another language’s “dirty” words?—so he taught me “thank you” and “I love you” (we had earlier discussed my imminent wedding, so this was appropriate). He then shared some advice about marriage:
“I love you”. Use these words carefully; they are very strong.
When I got married, 36 years ago, we had only a small cabin with a wood stove in it. I chopped the wood. For our wedding gift, we were given one blanket. Today I have many children and grandchildren, and even a great-grandchild.
Love is the most important thing; things—gifts—do not matter. I have things today, and it is good, but they came slowly. It is good to have things, but only if you have worked for them.
My parents did not believe in divorce. They were raised to be Catholics in the residential schools (my mother spoke English, French, and Cree at school, and Dene when she went home), and they kept this religion all their lives.
At this point we discussed the importance of taking marriage seriously, and then he went on:
I remember that we had wedding ceremonies and everything was borrowed; there was only one suit and one dress in the community. At one wedding, four people got married and there was only one ring, which was passed from person to person. I do not wear a wedding ring, because my hands are swollen with arthritis, but also because I do not need one to remember that I am married to my wife.
It’s like the universe knew I was flying home to get married, and so sent me all sorts of delights along the way.