Always leave people better than you found them. Hug the hurt. Kiss the broken. Befriend the lost and love the lonely.
Johannesburg, South Africa (10 Feb 2019) – I am a writer, and I constantly take notes everywhere I go. My iCloud folder can get quite messy so every now & then I clear it out. I was busy doing that this morning when I found this… a note about kindness. Something I had written after a flight last year & somehow completely forgot about, but something worth sharing today.
Kindness matters! Be kind, for we are all facing battles that none of us know anything about.
It was a random Wednesday with another flight to another city for another big meeting. Just another day really. And it was early which didn’t help my cause, I’m a pretty happy guy but mornings do require coffee. Strong, black and apparently never enough of it.
I had to check-in at the counter and was “obviously” given the middle seat, in the middle of the plane as I had missed the check-in the night before thanks to a mixture of presentations, Netflix and family time. Thanks Netflix, now I have to people and fight for the middle armrests, all without having enough coffee (by the way the middle seat ALWAYS gets the armrests, okay?!)
When I eventually got through the boarding gates, up the stairs, into the plane and close to my seat, I saw a rather large man who would be my window neighbour and a lady dressed in pastels sitting in the aisle seat… I didn’t pay much attention to the man as I wouldn’t have to disturb him to get to my seat but she was clutching a book about gardening or something.
She must have been in her late forties, hardly any make-up on but pretty.
I scuffled around her, she stood up, I sat down and we got ready to fly.
She was focused on a page in her book about planting a “bare-root rose” & dealing with fallen leaves. Her head pointed down causing her hair to cover her off from the world. It made her look anxious.
Yeah, I hate flying too was my first thoughts.
The take-off was a series of misfortunate events, someone was apparently claustrophobic & needed to exit the plane. We were just about to taxi when she stood up and requested (very loudly) to leave. We had to wait for permissions, and then for the doors to be opened, and then for her to leave. I get it, flying is not for everyone but her demonstration left us all feeling like we were in Final Destination part eleven.
The cabin was heating up & the tension could be felt. I reached up to try fiddle with my air to get it to work but only succeeded in opening up the conversation with the horticulturist aisle lady.
“Is it working? It’s so hot in here,” she asked.
“No, it looks like it will only work with the engines on,” I replied.
“How fast do these things go? Do you think we’ll make up the time in the air? Is that possible?” she asked.
“Yeah, if we catch a good wind we might be able to… do you have a meeting you’re trying to get to?”
“Kinda, just meeting my sister. She’s coming from Cape Town.”
It seems that I had started a real conversation with a complete stranger, even with my lack of coffee and caring but I had opened up the flood gates and was literally stuck in the middle seat with nowhere else to go… so begrudgingly carried on with the “chat”.
“Oh how awesome. Long weekend holiday?” I asked.
“No. My… my brother had a heart attack last night. No. The night before. And we’re going to his farm to be with his son.
He is so fit. He was so fit.
It’s such a shock.
I had never been to his farm. He invited us but I had never been. Now we’re going down to be with his son.”
Suddenly I felt a lump in my throat and my eyes started to well up.
I had completely misread this situation. This kind-hearted woman that I was trying to avoid was not afraid of flying… she was afraid of landing and having to deal with whatever was waiting for her on the other side.
And I was blaming my bad mood on coffee?!?
She kept staring at the “bare-root rose” planting page. I could see her eyes scattering to try to find clarity in her thoughts.
I took her hand and told her I was so sorry. I was so incredibly sorry for her loss and her pain, but I was also sorry that I had not seen it in her eyes because I was so focused on me and my coffee (or lack thereof).
We spent the rest of the flight speaking about her brother, she retold stories of her childhood and painted a beautiful picture of who I can only believe was an incredible human. She made me smile, and laugh, and even cry but she also told me she was thankful to be sitting next to me as she needed to talk to someone before she landed. When the air-hostess came round she even offered to buy me a coffee.
Her words: “You looked like you needed one when you got on the flight.”
I never got her name and I’m not sure I’ll ever see her again but that flight and that moment was a tragically beautiful reminder that everyone is facing a battle we know nothing about. And that kindness matters. It was a nudge from the universe to remind me that sometimes when we open ourselves up and step outside of our comfort zones, we’re able to share immeasurable kindness that will have an impact on our hearts forever.
Thank you kind “bare-root rose” planting lady. I hope you are still reliving beautiful memories of your brother with other “moody” strangers.