I am on a flight to Boston. The bustle of passengers, the loud crackle of the flight attendant announcements, and the dull roar of the engines barely register with me thanks to my incessant need to check my emails. I am on the aisle and the seat next to me is empty. At the window, is a man in his late sixties. Long grey hair pulled back into a ponytail, thin arms with green tattoos faded past the point of any recognizable form. Lost in my phone, I didn’t even notice he was speaking to me at first. It wasn’t until he gently touched me on the elbow and leaned into me that he caught my attention. “Is this all really normal?” He asked me quietly. I was completely confused and it evidently showed on my face because he clarified, “This is my first time flying, I’m just nervous.”
I responded quickly with a “Yeah, it’s normal” and went back to my phone. Finally, it was time to switch my phone to airplane mode and put the emails away as the plane began to take off. That was when I thought back to the interaction. This man was genuinely nervous about a new experience, something out of his comfort zone, and had reached out to a stranger for comfort and I had basically brushed him off.
I took out my earbuds, put my phone away, and decided to be present. He was flying home from visiting his grandchildren. A cancer diagnosis had forced him to fly instead of driving like he had done so many times in the past. We spent an hour talking about his life, building cabins in northern Arkansas, taking his grandkids trout fishing, and lost years from opioid addictions.
After a few jack and cokes, he dozed off and left me to my thoughts. I realized then I nearly missed a chance to be human to someone. To be the bare minimum that should be required from me as a member of our species. Basic human kindness.
I began to wonder how many other times I had missed someone reaching out. A coworker trying to connect or a neighbor needing a sympathetic ear. How many opportunities to be the very thing someone needed in their day did I allow to slip by? I tried to play back the week in my mind, combing through conversations for any signs I missed. There were at least a few.
Doesn’t everyone need and deserve that every once in a while? Someone to simply engage, to listen, to be interested in how they are feeling and what they are experiencing. Someone to be present. I know I do.
So be open, be present. Even the smallest interaction could lead to something amazing. Maybe you open up and find a deeper, stronger connection than you’ve ever known. Or maybe you shake hands, wish them well on the rest of their journey and never see them again.
Either way, you’ll each be better for it.
“You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment.” – Henry David Thoreau