Have you ever flown Southwest Airlines on a full flight and hoped somehow, you’d be able to save that middle seat? Have you ever actually employed a strategy to keep it?
I totally do this.
I guess because of the stress and chaos of airports, that middle seat is like a treasured gem. It’s not that I’m anti-social, it’s just that two feet of space between me and a stranger, instead of two inches, makes all the difference in the world.
Brittany and I were flying back from the Nomi Network Gala on Southwest this week and I was employing full seat saving strategy. Sitting there with my tray table down and my food and drink covering it. My huge, overflowing purse in the seat next to me and my eyeballs glued to my phone, trying to FaceTime with my boys.
The last passengers where boarding and we’d almost secured our treasured seat when. . .
All of a sudden a loud and abrupt, Excuse me, is that seat taken?, echoed through the cabin. I looked up and a short, stout obviously native New Yorker in her late 60’s, with a couple of huge carry-ons, was starring right at me and appeared ready to climb right over us. With our sad little hearts, we stood with all our junk and gave her the window seat.
I sat back down in the middle, disappointed that she’d foiled my plan.
As she huffed and puffed, rearranging her things to fit them under the seat, it became clear she wasn’t having a very good day. So I did what any friendly passenger would do in my situation and offered her one of my cinnamon sugar Auntie Anne’s pretzel bites.
Surprisingly, she obliged.
With that, she began to explain the last few hours of her day that had been nothing short of one anixety-inducing, stressful situation, after another.
She was traveling to Dallas to care for her sick mother and her trip had been well planned and thought out. Her cab to take her from Queens to La Guardia showed up 30 minutes late. After waiting through the line to check her back and then waiting through the security line, she realized the ticket agent didn’t give her a boarding pass. So she had to do it all again.
When she finally got to the front of the line, she’d been selected for the additional screening process.
As if that wasn’t enough, she was carrying her dog, “Angel” in one of her carry-ons. Let’s just say, he’s not exactly an angel. The TSA agent needed her to hold him during the screening and in return, Angel wanted to eat his hand. This didn’t make the process a smooth one for her.
She was late and exhausted.
Her B boarding group position had become irrelevant as she barely made it to the gate in time to be one of the last passengers boarding the flight. So by the time Molook arrived at our row at the back of the plane, my little middle seat strategy was the very least of her concerns. She just needed to sit down.
All the earlier judgements I had in my mind about this mean old New Yorker melted into shame and sincere empathy for a woman struggling on her journey.
We talked for quite some time about her life in NY. She is a retired psychiatrist who’d never married or had children. She moved to New York after medical school in hopes of a promising career and ended up spending 28 years as a government employed Psychiatrist, treating the sickest psychiatry patients in Queens.
I wanted to hug her. To hold her hand. She needed to be loved.
After the flight, standing at baggage claim, I told Brittany how bad I felt for judging this sweet woman in my mind, before exchanging any words with her. I knew her type and I was apparently prepared to treat her with my toughest walls in return.
Until we connected.
Until I saw her eyes and the beads of sweat on her forehead. Until I heard her story. Then, suddenly, she was a human. A friend.
Our stories connect us, if we share them.
They bridge the gap between mean New Yorker and interesting, kind woman.
They can fill the middle seat with humanity and fill our hearts with love and hope.
Be open to the stories of others today. To the stories of strangers. And especially the stories of the people you see everyday. There are probably a few beads of sweat on their foreheads, if you look close enough.
They need to know someone cares.
Let it be you.
Want a bite of my pretzel?
To more love,