By Summer Owens

Before COVID-19 changed everything about our lives, I was a frequent flier. Going from city to city speaking all over the country, I have had the privilege of meeting some awesome and interesting people.

Right now, Southwest is my preferred airline, that is unless I forget to check-in for my flight 24 hours in advance. On one of my most recent trips, I was busy with the #AFLVCentral college leadership conference and completely forgot to check-in for my 8am flight the next morning. So, I knew I would get a C boarding priority (the last group to board) and a dreaded middle seat.

And I did.

I decided I’d grab the first open seat I saw. I spoke to the gentlemen on the aisle as I stepped into the middle seat. I smiled at the lady at the window, and she began talking before I could sit down good. She was using a tablet and asked me about the in-flight WIFI so that she could play her slots game.

She was on her way to Tampa and shared how she’d be on a month-long tour of beaches and resorts in Florida. I exchanged a few pleasantries with her then nodded off to sleep as it was 7am and I had been up since 5am after only 4 hours of sleep. Conferences keep their own hours!

She apologized as she woke me up because as she said, “The old lady needs to use the restroom.” When she returned, she talked about her granddaughter asking her to go to Las Vegas with her for her 21st birthday because she loved how she played the slots. She talked about her dog that she had wanted to drive to Florida with her, but her kids insisted that she fly. She quickly said she was renting a car in Tampa and driving all over Florida so might as well have driven from Indianapolis. She said her kids worried about her, but she had to keep moving. She was going to Florida to visit lots of different friends.

Her first stop was to a friend she’d known since kindergarten. She said, “She’s a widow too.” She (my airplane friend) had just lost her husband a year ago. She said she was still a little mad at God. They had been married 60 years and he was a mechanical engineer. He died with dementia not even knowing who she was.

She teared up a bit as she shared this then she found a picture of him to show me. She said he told her he knew she was high maintenance when he saw she even had her initials on her shoes- SAS. She got a good laugh out of that. She said he took good care of her and now her kids did. She then she showed me pictures of her children down to her great grandchildren with stories to go with each of them. I asked how many children she had. She told me she had a daughter and a son and had lost a 25-year-old daughter in a car accident.

She showed me a picture of her in her Halloween costume last year and a picture of her and her 95-year-old neighbor that she dresses up and takes out every Thursday. And her and her friend in ponchos saying, “The rain don’t stop nothing. You have to keep moving.” She caught me off guard when she then showed me “the fella she’s dating now.”

I said, “That’s so nice that you’re dating.”

“Ah, yes, I had my life with my husband. Now I have another life.” She smiled holding back tears I believe.

Then she told me that when she got to the resorts she was going to ask when she checked in if there were any single men her age there that she could have dinner with. She laughed as she shared with me that the friend she was going to see had a 60-year-old boyfriend (she and her friend are 82). She said their friends back home told her to take a picture of him. Then she said she definitely didn’t want a man that young, he might be expecting too much and she just couldn’t at her age (she even said why!).

I fell in love with my new friend, Shirley. Her friendliness, her vulnerability, her openness and her resilience. I told her how amazing I thought she was. She smiled and said, “I cry every night, but I have to keep moving.”

When we landed, I got her bag down for her and offered to pull it but she wouldn’t let me. We talked until we split at the gates.

Shirley will always be a reminder to just keep going, keep moving.

Keep living.

A first-generation college student with a two-year old son, Summer Owens navigated the unfamiliar rigors of college life. With her son by her side, she became a campus leader in several organizations, from Student Activities Council to her sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. Balancing academics, campus leadership, motherhood, and an internship, she managed to graduate Magna Cum Laude and was named Miss University of Memphis. After a 15-year corporate career with the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies and FedEx, and after earning an MBA, Summer became a speaker helping youth and young adults develop a SO What! Mindset. Learn more about her signature programs at

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