I had experienced turbulence before. I never minded turbulence. I'm not the praying type, and I don't frighten easily. I don't Hail Mary or clutch neighbors, and I never, ever think, "We're all going to die!" I've been flying since I was a kid and except for the lack of snacks in recent years I've never had a problem on a flight.
Those thoughts flashed through my mind as I clutched the hand of the octogenarian lady next to me. We yelped along with the rest of the cabin every time our plane bucked and dropped through a late summer storm. It was Houston to New Orleans in hurricane season and I was sure we were going down. Apparently, so was she.
It's amazing how quickly the pious and impious alike reach for prayer when you think you're going to fall out of the sky. The lady next to me, a complete stranger until that moment, fished a set of keys with a silver cross keychain from the pocket of her navy polyester pants and held it in her free hand. Her other hand tightly squeezed mine. We hadn't even spoken on the flight, but there we were, stomachs tossing with our plane, two lone women on their way to the Big Easy.
If we ever got there.
From the corner of my eye I watched her close her eyes and barely move her lips in what I took to be a prayer. My free hand itched for my own talisman, my own prayer, but all I could do is close my eyes and grunt with every sudden drop and rise of the plane.
Above me, I imagined the Buddhist goddess Guan Yin tossing around in the overhead bin. She had been tucked peacefully in my overnight bag for nearly four years without incident, and now I called out to her in my mind.
I should clarify, a laminated bookmark with the image of the goddess Guan Yin was tucked in my overnight bag for nearly four years. She was a gift from a friend who told me Guan Yin would protect me on all my travels. Guan Yin, I prayed, show us your compassion and save us from this storm!
I can't say the combined efforts of my calling Guan Yin and my neighbor clutching her silver cross caused the storm to cease and the plane to right itself, but we did end up landing safely. When we touched down the lady and I released our hands with matching embarrassed but grateful smiles. I dug through the ransacked overhead bin for my overnight bag and left the plane ready to kiss the ground.
It wasn't until I stopped in the airport bathroom to fix my hair that I thought to look for Guan Yin in my bag to thank her. I wanted to kiss that laminated bookmark for bringing me through the storm. I unzipped the main compartment where I usually stowed her and dug through clothes and cosmetic bags.
No Guan Yin.
Maybe I'd put her in the book I was reading? I removed a paperback book from an external pocket and flipped it over and shook.
No Guan Yin.
I slid my hand through the side pockets on either side of the exterior. Nothing. I frantically did it again. No. Could she have fallen out of the book in all the turbulence? It was the only explanation. I immediately missed her, but in a strange way I felt it was more than a fair exchange.
Jocelyn Kerr is a freelance writer and researcher. She has also been a librarian, a multimedia producer, and a general drifter who knows a thing or two about packing light. She splits her time between the Gulf Coast, the Northeast, and jocelynkerr.com.