Solo Flight: Finding Inspiration in the Airport
It was my first solo flight. I’d made it through customs with only two near panic attacks, and had now for two solid hours clung to both my backpack and my plane ticket like either of them would vanish into thin air if I let them go. This would leave me stranded and lost in a large airport where I would likely find some way to accidentally commit a felony and get myself arrested, booked on criminal charges, and never see my family again.
When, miraculously, none of the above catastrophes occurred, I found myself seated alone in Gate B8 a whole hour early for my flight. This gave me ample time to assure myself I was sitting in the wrong section, change seats three times, check my bags to make sure I wasn’t unknowingly in possession of any firearms or plastic containers larger than 4.3 fluid ounces, and debate if I could make it to the bathroom half a football field away in 59 minutes or less, barring any disasters taking place between there and my seat on the plane.
I was considering all of this, in addition to playing out scenarios in which I was Tom Hanks in Terminal, when an elderly woman was escorted into Gate B8 in a wheelchair and seated directly behind me, our backs facing one another. The escort was a very polite Hispanic lady who spoke relatively broken English, though not for lack of trying. The passenger appeared to be in her mid-80’s, but was very energetic and well-composed.
What struck me the most about the older woman wasn’t her meticulously curled hair or the large red flag stuck to the back of her chair to signal that she would need extra assistance, but her manner. She was happy to be there. She was happy to be.
As soon as she was in place, the employee asked if there was anything else she needed, and she answered by telling her how lovely she was and asking her name, which she told her was beautiful enough to suit her.
The employee was completely caught off guard, obviously not used to this type of response. She even looked slightly panicked as she struggled to understand what exactly was being said to her. A few seconds later the surprise left her face and was replaced by a wide smile; one that was immediately returned. I listened then to a long string of jumbled up and strongly accented words as this woman tried desperately to accept the compliment, but couldn’t quite manage it. The older lady then asked if she had any family- yes, she answered, a little boy.
“I bet you must miss him an awful lot while you’re out working all the time,” she said.
“Yes…we miss…very much…” she whispered as her eyes started to tear up.
Then, from her seat, the lady asked her for a hug. They held each other for a moment, and when they let go the older woman thanked her again for both her assistance and her companionship, as short-lived as it may have been. The response she got was only a request for prayers, both for her and for her son.
The employee left a few minutes later, after receiving the promise of prayers for the rest of the old woman’s life. I sat there trying to take it all in when I heard the sound of an old flip phone being opened and a number being dialed. After a few seconds of silence, the very same lady launched into an excited rendition of this story, of the wonderful woman who had helped her today, and how she was so incredibly kind, like everyone she’d ever encountered at this airport.
I spent the next 55 minutes thinking about it, long after the aforementioned passenger had struck up another conversation with the person sitting across from her. She’d been so gentle and sympathetic; she’d spoken to her as if she were a friend, and promised to think of her every day for the rest of her life.
She didn’t roll her eyes and sigh at the interruption once she was alone, her first thought was that she was just so happy she had to tell someone about it- even when all the kindness had been her own doing. She approached this woman with childlike joy, and it brought just as much happiness to herself as it did to the people around her. She made somebody’s day with nothing more than a smile and a few kind words, but she meant it.
I continued thinking about the incident even after I’d boarded the plane, and could only come to one conclusion. It can be hard to see outside of ourselves, especially in world that is constantly telling us to do the opposite, but maybe sometimes all we need is a reminder. A reminder to smile, a reminder to be considerate, a reminder to think of someone else for a change. We all need a little kindness our lives, so why not start by being the kindness is someone else’s?
By Emma Cassman