The airline attendant ushered the pale and trembling young woman down the aisle of the plane. At 33,000 feet in the air, she weaved her way to an empty seat just across from me, where the stewardess cooly motioned for her to take a seat. In her hands, the weary woman gripped a paper sack that matched her pasty complexion. And everything changed that moment on the plane, headed from DC to North Carolina.
While a dark-haired lady to the woman's left pressed herself into the window and never acknowledged her same-row visitor, I reached across the aisle and patted the back of the 20-something, expectant mother. She sheepishly turned her head up and glanced slightly toward me, afraid to leave that little bag of safety. She ventured, “I don't think the baby likes to fly.” Then she resumed position, shoulders rolled forward, head bent and one hand braced against the back of the seat in front of her, while the other pressed the plane's standardized equipment against her quivering lips.
For the next several minutes, I tried to soothe the fear, embarrassment and discomfort of my new charge. I tried to get her mind on other things through quiet, small talk. I rubbed her back and handed her yet another bag. She wore a spaghetti strap, next-to-nothing blouse and finished her not-so-winterized outfit with flip flops on her feet. The tattoos on her arm grew bluer black while what little pink she had rushed its way to freezing fingers and toes. I'm pretty sure the piercing in her nose echoed a metallic ring as hard as she shook from being so cold. When she began to shiver uncontrollably, I took my coat and draped it over her exposed shoulders.
Once again, she gazed upwards with gratitude beyond measure. “Thank you so much,” she weakly said. And I felt at a loss for words. All that I could do was pray for this lonely, afraid, very sick and desperate woman who looked more and more like a little girl.
I tell this story not for self edification. I tell it because that encounter opened my eyes to the human condition that seems more and more prevalent. People are desperate. Many are indifferent. A few are compassionate. Which are you?
What would you do if someone in need were placed at your elbow? Would you cling to the window, cover your nose and never offer a kind word like the woman in the window seat? Or would you offer a friendly gesture, be a knight in shining armor, an angel in disguise, a friend in deed?
This time I got it right and I lovingly reached out and offered comfort to a stranger. But a million times in my life, I've failed.
The reward for taking the time to show tenderness came from a young lady named Camie. When I exited the plane, a warmed and calmer young mother looked up and smiled and said, “Thank you for your kindness.” And everything changed that moment on the plane, headed from DC to North Carolina.