I have been traveling a little more lately. And it doesn’t take many jam-packed flights to notice what an impact we have on the people around us. A four hour flight is just a little magnified slice of the bigger picture. Last night I sat in my aisle seat, frustrated about the XXXL dude next to me using ALL of the armrest, and the two XXL flight attendants who weren’t having any of me leaning over into the aisle. I felt the heat rise and I couldn’t stop thinking about the guy who was kicked off a plane last week because he couldn’t fit into the 17 inch seat. I wanted to get out my tape measure and do a walk through to see if all of us passed that test. But then…I struck up a conversation with XXXL.
Turns out, he was a nice guy, and a good person. He had a story. He had a name, James. And he had a son the same age as my oldest. He was returning home from a trip with a broken heart. He had just taken his 11 year old son back to New Jersey to live with his mom (Grandma). Until then, James had been a single Dad, trying to make it work for he and his son in Las Vegas. But at age 11, junior started heading in the wrong direction. James was worried. He didn’t want his son to have the life that he had. So he made the tough decision to let Grandma take over for awhile. I could see the pain in his eyes, hear it in his voice that cracked as he told the story.
What really hit me though, was how easy it was for me to write him off as just another inconveninece I had to put up with on my journey. Poor me. I got sat by the big guy. I don’t get an armrest for this flight. The minute I looked into his eyes and came to know him as a person, a fellow human walking the tough road of life and parenting with me, I forgot about my petty complaints. In fact, I had a great time talking to him and the four hour flight flew by.
Big Jim lift a mark on my heart. He left me with the valuable lesson that we don’t have to go through life with our eyes down, avoiding, or worse, tolerating others. Tolerance is a popular word these days, but I have always cringed when I hear it. If you tolerate me, it means I’m insignificant to you, but you’ll let me exist in your space. We tolerate each other on flights, in grocery lines, in traffic, perhaps even in our homes. But I want more now. I want connection. I want to hear, and share stories. I want to live in a world where I see eyes and not pavement. I’m throwing my tape measure away.