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Angel on the Plane

A perfectly-placed stranger gave her a gift from heaven.

A woman's hand placed on an airplane window while in flight

“Are you all right?” I said.

The middle-aged woman next to me on my flight home had been teary-eyed when we boarded, and now she was visibly crying.

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I wasn’t doing great myself. My 22-year-old son had recently died of a blood clot in his brain. I was returning home to New York after clearing out his apartment in Phoenix, Arizona, where he’d only just moved—he hadn’t even had time yet to buy me a cross for my collection. I had one from every other place he ever lived. It was our ritual.

“Yes, well—” the woman paused, collecting herself. “I’m coming from my mother’s funeral. My dad retired to take care of her and he’s all alone. My two sisters and I live far away.”

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“I’ve been there,” I said. In fact, I’d been exactly there a few years ago, when my mother died and I’d had to leave my father, who’d also retired early, all alone. My two sisters and I lived far away as well. It was uncanny. I didn’t mention the coincidence, but I did tell her about my son.

“I’m so sorry,” she said. And we spent the flight mostly with our own thoughts but in each other’s comforting company. By the time we exited the plane, I felt like I’d known her forever.

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“This is for you—from Phoenix,” she said outside the terminal. She reached in her purse and put something in the palm of my hand, closing my fingers over it. “Take care.” Only when she’d disappeared into the crowd did I see what she’d put in my hand. The cross I was missing from my collection.

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