We ended up sitting in the front row (we like to think it was first class, but in reality, it was just the first row) on our flight home last week.
My daughter sat by the window and I was sandwiched in between her and a gentleman to my left.
After the flight took off and I was trying to get settled, I noticed the man’s arm was taking up most of the armrest. Not a big deal, I thought. Soon, he’ll adjust and share the space with me.
I ended up repositioning myself so I didn’t have to use the armrest and didn’t think much more of the tiny inconvenience.
After we had been in the air about 2 hours, I had finished reading and again, was trying to readjust (I get very restless on flights). Not only was he hogging the armrest, BUT his arm was actually now resting on MY side of the armrest, like IN MY space. AND his leg was touching mine. While I didn’t feel uncomfortable, it was a bit awkward, and I was trying to figure out how to move over without being obvious.
I was reciting in my head what I was going to tell my daughter when we deplaned, about how annoying this guy was and how he was invading my space and didn’t even seem like he cared. He just continued to play his game on his iPad.
Towards the end of this silent conversation in my head, he suddenly turned, and as he picked up his arm and moved his leg, he began to profusely apologize and explain that he had no feeling in his arm and leg! He was partially paralyzed!
Wow! I can’t begin to explain how hearing this brief part of his story changed my entire perspective.
I immediately felt compassion for him and was so glad I didn’t make a scene or cause him to be uncomfortable.
I automatically thought of a sign and a sermon from many months ago. The sign was on a highway near Richmond, and the sermon was delivered at the Good Friday service at the National Cathedral.
It was a message I had personally experienced several times recently, and I continue to be amazed at its impact.
THERE ISN’T ANYONE YOU COULDN’T LOVE IF YOU KNEW THEIR STORY
I was reminded of the power of a story. So many times we are quick to judge, condemn and disregard, simply because we don’t know someone’s story.
But once we know “the rest of the story”, it usually brings understanding and a different light to someone’s actions.
While learning one’s story doesn’t excuse a behavior, it often helps to explain it and bring new awareness to a situation.
I remember as a new teacher, I would find myself frustrated with one of my student’s lack of preparation and missing homework assignments. Until the day I followed him home and learned “the rest of his story.” Jeffrey lived downtown and was bussed to our school in an affluent neighborhood in Louisville. He spent most afternoons after getting off the school bus, waiting on the doorstep for his mom to get home. It would be a really great day if she had some food to give him for dinner.
When I came to realize that Jeffrey was more worried about eating, and sleeping in a safe place, than about getting his homework completed, I was able to understand and empathize with him. I found ways to help him be efficient at school so that homework wasn’t so vital to his learning. I hugged him and encouraged him and made sure he knew I loved him and cared for him. My whole outlook and method of helping him become successful changed, once I understood his story.
As my daughter and I deplaned our flight, I smiled at my seatmate as he waited patiently for his wheelchair to be brought and the flight attendant to help transfer him into it.
And once again I was reminded of the power of a story.