It’s 1995. My wife and I are on a flight to New York City to attend the Jack Kerouac Writer’s Conference. As the plane circles over the city, it allows me just enough time to locate the Statue of Liberty. The noonday sun illuminates its green patina. Ellis Island sits in the bay. Brooklyn Bridge spans the East River. I follow Manhattan. Low-lying fog covers the tips of the World Trade Center towers. I imagine Kerouac and his entourage of Beat Boys: living there, loving there, drinking there, drugging there, writing there.
The plane lands at JFK. I grab my backpack, unlatch the overhead, grab my other bag, and walk down the aisle. I’m anticipating the excitement of the upcoming days. Midway down the aisle, I catch a glimpse of a New York Times someone had left stuffed in a seat pocket. The newspaper is folded to an article titled “Chinese Adoption.” Just as I was about to pass the seat, I reach over and grab the paper, put it under my arm, continue down the aisle, and step off the plane.
How could I realize the consequences of that split-second decision to take the newspaper? I could easily not have noticed it stuffed in the pocket. The preceding passenger could have easily taken it with him or her. Let’s go back even farther. The passenger could have purchased an entirely different newspaper to read. The passenger could have chosen a flight to Miami or Chicago, instead of New York. The passenger could have decided not to fly anywhere at all in the first place.
Two years after reading that article in the New York Times we took another flight to Beijing and then another one to Nanning to adopt our daughter. She is now twenty-two years old: full of life, very talented, intelligent, and most importantly, a caring and loving person.
It could have gone another way.
I often think of how different her life and ours would have been if I hadn’t plucked that New York Times from the seat pouch.