Most people I know have a love/hate relationship with the airport. Sure, the terminals and runways are home to the airlines and airplanes that take us to our loved ones and begin memorable vacations but, that doesn’t necessarily make the process enjoyable. People say that in life, the journey is more important than the destination. The disclaimer? This does not apply when the journey involves ticketing, security lines, baggage check or baggage claim. If I had to venture a guess, I would say the main problem with the air travel journey in particular is that people are generally irritated, in a hurry and less considerate in the airport than most other places. We tend to keep to ourselves, grumble under our breath and are seen as polite for simply not saying anything rude, too loudly, in the security line or at 60,000 feet. Perhaps then, everyone would find more delight in their travel if all passengers took a cue from “Daddy” in seat 16C.
When mom Shanell boarded her plane from Philly with daughter Kate, she immediately began strategizing how to best make it from take-off to touchdown without a nuclear meltdown; a feeling all to familiar to any mother who has ever flown with a toddler. Quickly deciding her daughter’s affinity for opening and closing the window would be more distracting to the third passenger in their row than anything else, Shanell placed Kate in the middle seat and hoped for the best. As luck would have it, “the best” is exactly what she got, despite her initial panic.
Kate’s loving mother recounted on her blog all the thoughts that ran through her mind that day, the journey of flying with her child beginning again. As the plane began to load, the Temple basketball team moved through the aisle way, bypassing Shanell and Kate’s empty seat; an unfortunate happening as they seemed like young men Kate might be entertained by. Women with grandmother-like qualities also boarded but, none sat next to Shanell’s little girl. Finally, a man dressed in a nice suit carrying a briefcase entered the aircraft and took his seat, right next to Kate. Almost immediately, Shanell had visions of her little girl spilling water all over his important documents or being given the irritated side eye throughout their flight together. Much to the delight of both mother and daughter, no basketball player or grandmother could have been kinder to Kate than the well-dressed man who took a seat in 16C.
Little Kate instantly took a liking to her new businessman friend, rubbing his jacket and greeting him with an innocent and unknowing “Hi, Daddy.” Shanell, remembering the situation with immense gratitude, knew that the man could have ignored Kate, shifted uncomfortably in his seat or given her the anticipated and dreaded “control your child” smile that she was all to familiar with. Instead, Mr. 16C engaged Kate in conversation; he asked her about her Ninja Turtles, shared his iPad and even accepted an invitation to play the bad guy when Kate offered up her beloved Shredder action figure. The interaction went on throughout the flight, without a sign of annoyance on the stranger’s face, and when it was time to deplane he was as gracious as ever. Kate’s toddler patience and tolerance for travel was wearing thin, a meltdown fast approaching. When she screamed and cried to be let out of her seat, the man did not cringe or roll his eyes. Instead he tried to pick up where he and his new friend left off in their turtle play. When that didn’t quite work, he simply let Kate and Shanell go ahead of him without so much as a sigh. A businessman who could have easily buried himself in his work and ignored his tiny plane companion instead stowed away his papers and put both a little girl and her mother at ease. Certainly this proves how a little compassion and a bit of kindness can turn even a taxing journey into a more enjoyable one.
What this man may or may not have realized is that Kate lives with autism, which is why she simply stared at him during certain points of their conversation, enamored with his presence. He couldn’t have known that there had been past flights that were much less successful, flights for which Kate’s mother endlessly apologized to fellow passengers. I guess we don’t always have to know the background to understand we have a choice in all situations, the ability to act with compassion. Whether or not this man knew or understood all the variables, he didn’t shy away; he simply saw a little girl who could use a smile instead of a frown. Perhaps he thought he could offer Kate and Shanell a kindness or perhaps he was just being kind without much thought. Whatever the case, Mr. 16C reminds us that compassion and consideration for those around us is so much nicer than eye-rolling and disregard.
It might just be that our experiences at the airport, and throughout life in general, could be made a little sweeter if we took a page out of 16C’s book. If we keep our heads up and offer a kindness whenever and wherever we can, we just may get a kindness in return. The world could use a few more people putting out the good juju.
Thank you Mr. 16C for showing us the extreme gratitude that can come from even small acts of compassion. Thank you for showing little Kate the type of kindness we should all be trying to show each other.
Feature Image via ShutterStock.