Fellow Travelers

Sign says, "Occupied By a Through Passenger."

In the summer of 1989 – a few weeks after the Chinese government cracked down on protesters in Tiananmen Square and a few months before the East German government unexpectedly began cutting holes in the Berlin Wall – I boarded a flight for West Germany and met a man from Syria.

I don’t remember his name and I would not be able to pick him out of a crowd today, but I remember conversing with him during our eight-hour flight. He was a pleasant seatmate, chatting sociably but not so much as to monopolize my attention or time.

The plane landed and we went our separate ways. I headed off to start my new job as a reporter/producer at Radio Deutsche Welle and he headed off in his own direction.

As the war in Syria drags on, I find myself wondering about him and what became of his life since that shared flight and brief conversation.

Is he still alive?

If so, I think he would be in his 60s. What is his life like?

Does he have children? Grandchildren?

Is he among the refugees who fled the country, among those who remained and fear for their lives; or – perhaps – is he part of Assad’s government forces or one of the terrorist groups?

I really have no idea.

Rapid-fire news headlines and pontificating pundits can quickly numb us to an important truth.

The people of Syria – and those in many other war zones around the world – are people who work and eat and sleep and laugh and cry and sing and bleed.

Just like us.

Some of them are nice to other people; some of them are not.

Just like us.

They are born; live; and die.

Just like us.

We are, after all, aboard the same flight.

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