My airplane seat is sandwiched beside a huge man who is evidently aware of his mass- his folded arms rest high across his chest to make room. He keeps to himself. On my other side, is a somber-looking man wearing a bulky winter jacket.
After we buckle in, I try to get comfortable by placing the edge of my elbows on the armrest. However, my coated seatmate’s arm occupies the total length. I try to slide my elbow in the far back, but he won’t budge. At first I think he must be oblivious to me and so I say,
“Could I please put my elbow on the arm rest?”
“That is the inconvenience of sitting in the middle,” is all he says, never even glancing at me.
I can’t believe my ears. I look to see if he is jokingly, but he stares straight into his paper. I feel like I’m in kindergarten with a bully.
“If you have the front of the arm rest, then I ought to be able to have the rear.” He completely ignores me.
After a bit, I try moving my elbow in for a little space and am pushing so tight against his body, that I can feel his heat, through his coat…his energy, his ill feelings towards me. He still refuses to budge.
Nine and a half-hours stretch ahead like a stint in prison. When dinner is delivered, my seatmate complains bitterly to the attendant that he is diabetic and ordered a diabetic meal and wants it now!
I suppose I should let him alone to his misery and ignore him for the duration of the flight. I know everyone is fighting some kind of private battle. Sharing nine hours of your life with your plane-mate doesn’t normally impact a life.
But sometimes it can.
I ask my husband in the next row, “Will you switch seats and teach him to share?”
Todd is a strong, broad-chested man, and for close to an hour, a struggle of muscle and will goes on. I peek between the seats and can’t believe what I am watching. The coated man is sitting forward to type and gain leverage for pushing, in an attempt to remove Todd’s elbow from the armrest. Todd struggles, trying not to smile, pushing back nearly as hard but he doesn’t have enough leverage and succumbs.
After a few hours, I relieve Todd to take my turn beside the armrest hog. As I am standing in the aisle, stretching, I notice that my seatmate does not have his spotlight on and he’s reading a book in the dark and I try to be kind.
“You could see a lot better if you had your light on,” I inform him.
“Thank you, but the light makes a glare on my laptop screen,” he replies.
I hadn’t seen his computer behind the seat.
When I sit down, everything changes. He makes small talk, extends his hand and introduces himself. Over the next few hours, we discuss a wide range of topics, laugh together, joke and become friends. Juan is a world famous biologist, lecturing, presenting papers, and doing research around the world. Soon his coat comes off for the first time in hours and the cabin temperature did not rise. It is my warmth. He removes his arm from the arm rest and for the first time, my arm easily slides on. Juan’s arm never goes back.
He brings out his bag of diabetic candy and not only offers some to me but half the plane. I can barely believe what I am witnessing.
Suddenly Juan confesses, “I believe I owe you an apology. I was quite rude to you when we first sat down.”
“I was going to ask you if your parents ever taught you to share!” I tease.
“I didn’t sleep very well last night and I felt badly. Then I had trouble getting the diabetic meal I ordered. That’s no excuse, though. I really am sorry for how I behaved. You turned everything around when you made that kind gesture about my reading light.”
“Please,” he begs, “Come to Mexico and bring your whole family. Be my guest at my home. That would make me very happy.”
I can’t believe my ears. The last few hours have flown by as I enjoyed probably the most engaging and inspirited conversation I have ever had with a seatmate.
Before we disembark, Juan makes it a point to invite me two more times, throws his arms around me in an embrace and announces, “You have made this trip for me!” A tiny act of kindness can go a long way.
Posted in: Life's Moments and Lessons