My flight from Dallas was delayed… big surprise, right? As I sat in the Delta terminal waiting for my flight home, I looked around and saw a man sitting alone in an empty terminal across the way. He was in his early to mid fifties and was wearing a Boston Red Sox cap and a pair of Costa sunglasses, but what gave Charles Dickens’ identity away was his goatee and the velvet along the lapels of the sports coat he was wearing. I knew right away who he was, and I watched for several minutes to see if anyone else recognized the writer who has given us so many iconic characters, phrases, and moments. To my dismay, people passed him by without so much as a passing glance.
I approached Mr. Dickens,he rose (like the Victorian gentleman he was), and I introduced myself. I noticed that he was holding a small notebook in his left hand into which he had hurriedly stuck a pen. He asked if I would like to join him, and I had to remind myself not to get giddy and giggle when I accepted the uncomfortable terminal chair next to his. I told him that I had recently taken a class on some of his lesser read works and that the most recent thing I read was his original Sketches by Boz. He laughed heartily and informed me that that particular collection was written from moments just like this one. I asked him how he was able to be so very specific and vivid in his descriptions of characters like those presented in his “Thoughts about People.” He chuckled and pointed to the small notebook in his other hand and then pointed to a young woman seated alone across the way. He began to weave a story about where she had come from and where she was going. He noted her dress, accessories, and the things she carried with her. He pointed out the pin she was wearing on her lapel, a gold star with a box across the middle. He told me that she was a “gold star wife,” the wife of a Marine killed in action, and he began to tell her story. She had cleaned out the little house she and her husband had on base and that she was headed back home to be with her parents until she figured out what her next step would be. She and her husband had not had children. They were waiting until he picked up his next rank and could be a little more financially stable. This was a regret she would carry with her for the rest of her life. Returning to her parents’ home as a twenty-five year old widow had never been part of her plan. This was to have been her husband’s last tour in Iraq, and his next post was to be in intelligence (a nice safe job stateside). In an additional twist of fate, she found herself sitting alone in the Dallas airport on what would have been her husband’s thirtieth birthday. He continued to spin his tale of this young widow, and I found myself in tears before he was done. I was incredibly moved by her story, whether it was fact, fiction, or a combination of both.
He spun tale after tale for me of the travelers who passed us as we sat in the airport. Mr. Dickens drew my attention to a young man and began to tell me his story. This young man was an up and coming banker on his way to a meeting where he would face a choice – maintain his integrity or break a slew of SEC laws and make a ton of money. He pointed out the three-year-old being dragged by his exhausted father through the airport in a rush to catch the flight which would return the miserable child to his mother who lived in Miami. I could have sat in that airport forever with this remarkable man and his incredible understanding of human nature and his skills of observation, but Time waits for no one and my flight was finally called.
I rose, picked up my carry-on, and told Mr. Dickens how much I appreciated his time. I took few steps and then remembered that my classmates would never forgive me if I didn’t find out how Edwin Drood ended. I turned back around to ask him who the murderer was… and he was gone. In the seat he had occupied, there was nothing but the Red Sox cap, the sunglasses, and a beautiful ring – diamonds and rubies in the shape of a rose.