After a leisurely breakfast we were ready and raring to go on our surprise jaunt to Munich. I had never been to Germany before, and though some would say that going to just the airport of a country doesn’t count as actually having been there, I would like to think that it does. The journey from Lyon to Munich was very pleasant with complimentary sandwiches and it was only an hour long flight. However it was slightly embarrassing when the plane was taxiing because over the tannoy the pilot apologised for the minor delay because there had been some “unexpected special guests who needed attention for safety reasons”. This gave me a hilarious mental image of radioactive blind people, though what they meant was that we were all shown the safety equipment 1:1 so that we could feel it. I think it was really great that the crew took the time to do this because it gave us that bit of extra reassurance just in case of an emergency.
On touching German soil I did two things: took a selfie with P to celebrate our first trip to Germany and realised that I was desperately in need of the toilet. On asking the assistance who was helping us to the connection flight if we could all go to the toilet C was told that we had only four minutes and that we could use the facilities on the plane. We then slowly went in what appeared to be a giant circle around the airport, up and down lifts and on and off minibuses. We had to be checked by German passport control where we were told off by a very stern lady who felt we were not taking the process seriously enough. This was because P and I had been smiling when she asked where we had flown from and where we were going to. She didn’t see the funny side of the fact that we had gone an hour in the wrong direction in order to get to our final destination. Eventually we got on the plane and by this point I was hopping and beginning to lose patience with friends who felt it was funny to make water sounds- I was very relieved to see that cubicle!
The take off of the flight from Munich to Birmingham sadly coincided with one of my panic attacks. I have had panic attacks for many years now and they take me by surprise and cut off my hearing, tense my muscles, cause heart palpitations, nausea and make it hard for me to breathe. I have been diagnosed with panic disorder and OCD and I am in the long process of learning how to manage these conditions. In hindsight it is rather darkly funny to imagine myself panicking whilst rocketing down the runway, supported by teacher C trying to keep me upright from behind and friend J reassuring me. Had what happened next not taken place I wouldn’t be telling you about this attack at all because I don’t like to talk about it. But I don’t think I should be ashamed, especially when something so inspiring occurred because of it. As I was coming out of the attack a very kind airhostess from the Czech republic gave me a colouring book (I hope she doesn’t mind I couldn’t stay within the lines) and a bracelet with a duck on it which rattled. I was aware of the fact that these were clearly the same things they gave to small children who were afraid of flying, but it felt rude not to accept. As the airhostess moved away I saw the lady in the green beret for the first time.
She was a fairly small lady with dark hair and glasses. She looked to be about the same age as my grandmother and I was surprised when she came and handed me what felt like some A4 paper. She explained to French teacher C in German that it was something her friend had made. She then returned to her seat a few rows ahead. On further inspection it was spiral bound and contained some photos of abstract paintings and some sheet music to what appeared to be some German folk songs. I first quickly flicked through the pages and then enjoyed looking at the beautiful pictures in more detail- focusing on each colour separately and how they merged together. I was so focused on this that I barely noticed the lady had moved back towards my teacher and had handed her a book too. It was a German book on homeopathy and she was pointing out paragraphs describing treatments which she thought may help me. C has limited German but the lady tried hard to get her message across before returning to her seat. Towards the end of the two hour flight she came back over and gave my teacher a small tanned piece of paper. On one side was some very delicate german handwriting which she said was a poem for me. She then took another piece of paper and tried to write out an english translation. With her limited English she could only manage a rough translation of half the poem, but after I read it I was speechless. The full translation which I received later (courtesy of a family member) reads like this:
“I carry within myself
The force which makes me strong.
I want to fill myself with the warmth of this strength.
I want to push myself with the force of my will.
I want to feel peace pouring over me in all of my being.
When I can do this, I will find rest and strength through the force of my own striving.”
I was still speechless when the flight came to land and the lady moved towards me again. I didn’t know what to say so I just put my arms around her in a huge hug. She said: “I saw your pain and suffering and I could feel it. I was trying to think how I could help and this is all I felt I could do”. She then revealed that she wasn’t supposed to be on this flight either, she was due to fly from Munich to Birmingham the day before but had broken down crying in the toilets and was unable to travel. She said that she wasn’t sure why at the time, but now she knew. She handed me a small polar bear keyring and said she had bought it from the zoo in Munich whilst she had time to waste before her rescheduled flight. She had intentionally bought a toy penguin for her son who she was visiting in England but she had wanted to buy the polar bear keyring too, as she handed me the small white bear she said: “I think this is yours.”
By this point I had tears streaming down my face and I think C was welling up a bit too. Then the lady in the beret said: “You need to throw it in the bin. It is all in your head, and you can do this”. She is a retired kindergarten teacher from Germany who later went on to start a youth hostel and she currently works in a hospice. She said that it is the work she is doing now that really makes her understand people. I remembered how the day before an airport member of staff had said that our flight being cancelled was destiny, and I now agree. We parted ways when I left the plane with my group and she stayed waiting to be helped off so she could meet up with her son. I didn’t stop crying until at least several songs into our cheery French music CD on the minibus ride back to college.
We were two strangers who were not supposed to be on the Munich flight- we met by pure chance. The kindness of that lady, who’s name I think may have been Ann, has deeply affected me. Her insight, despite never having met me before, was amazing. I returned to college 24 hours later than expected, having touched ground in three countries, with a strange feeling. Having spoken to family about what happened I have decided to share this story though it is still very personal to me. Amongst the people I have told about my experience some say it must be spiritual or fate, whilst others just can’t believe it. But it happened, and her words I am sure will stay with me forever.
Thank you friend.