On a recent flight, I glanced up to see a man walking down the airplane aisle. The man who if we were honest, we’d admit that we all hope didn’t sit by us. Disheveled, smiling around at no one in particular as he unintentionally knocked his bag around. When he stopped at my row, I felt guilty for these thoughts and looked up to smile at him. I do not want to judge people, strangers I know nothing about, just put off a bit by their appearance. That is not who I want to be. So, I smiled. That committed me for the flight.
He opened his bag and took out piles, I mean PILES of papers. Sections of newspapers he’d meant to read. Folded and added to the piles. Some were years old I noticed. He plopped a large pile next to me which immediately slid around and to the floor. Giggling, he picked them up, holding up the line behind him. He offered his aisle seat to the man behind him and slid next to me.
Imagine this–to have for a seat mate, a companion with a slightly musty odor, very dirty nails that were long and unkept, hair that rivaled Einstein for complexity, and a need to talk frequently forces a person to do one of two things. Look at…or look away. The man was quite frankly a mess. And if I chose to look away, I would be as well. Who am I to judge this person, based on these inconsequential peripheral distractions? Does not God love us equally?
Humbled, I helped him settle in, grasping loose papers as we took off. I knew much of his life story within the first 15 minutes. A 97-year-old mother he’d been taking care of for 5 weeks. A complete sonnet, eloquently recited to me written by his late father (also 97, who taught Biblical Comparative Religion), how his brother thinks he should not save so many articles, the names of his dogs and how they received said names, why he loves to fly West to East in the evening sky…
We politely chatted ( I listened) and then I settled in to read my book. He laughed at his papers, laughed some more and then nudged me. Offering me his papers to read, that I just had to read he insisted because they were so funny. About nuns. It was funny.
He took my chuckles to mean that I’d like more informative articles, which he just happened to have in his pile about nuns. Setting my book aside, I read with interest his carefully chosen pieces. We discussed several things that we read, and the flight passed by more quickly. He had notes too. On the computer paper that used to come connected with the holes along the side? Haven’t seen that in years, but he made fine use of the remnants. The man was highly intelligent, no matter my questions he had plenty of insight.
Why do I share this with you? Because we all see people everyday we make choices about. Others make choices about us. But, regard those choices with care. someone might need us to see them, really see them as people. And conversely, we might be that person to someone else. And you know what? When we landed he hurriedly scribbled his name, address, email ,cell number and the name of a book to give me. A book he’d be happy to send me to address a previous conversation. I saw Daniel that night when clearly his company wasn’t in high demand. And I will not forget him.