On our flight home from San Francisco, we were pre-boarded, as per usual and were warmly greeted by the flight crew. Our seat, as we had chosen, was right at the very back of the plane. We got there, put our stuff away, and got into our seats. Then the plane began to fill with other passengers.
A fellow came to the row ahead of us, and began putting things away in the overhead bin. I noticed, in the way that people do, that he was of a different culture, and colour, and faith than I was. I say this, because it's true, and because noticing doesn't mean anything. I saw that he noticed that I was fat, I wasn't offended by his noticing, because, well, people notice.
Aside from everything else I want to say here that I don't like or appreciate when people claim NOT to notice difference. "I don't see your disability," said someone to me a few weeks ago. It was meant as a compliment because, of course, disability is something best not seen. Well, I am disabled, I am fat, I'm good with that, I'm good with people noticing too. Staring, mocking, and other forms of social violence, I'm not good with ... but notice is just notice.
Back to what I wanted to write about.
As it turned out the fellow sitting in front of me had two empty seats beside him. Somewhere about a half an hour into the flight he moved over to the centre seat. I was on the aisle, Joe was by the window, the centre seat was free. He then turned back to me and asked if him putting his seat back would be in my way at all. I told him that it wouldn't be. He then reclined his seat and napped for much of the flight. (I wish I could do that.)
When we landed, as we were at the back of the plane and as we had to wait for my wheelchair to come up from the hold of the plane, Joe and I just waited. Acting to fulfil a resolution I've made to say thanks when thanks is due - something that should be automatic but, for me, isn't - I leaned forward and touched his shoulder to get his attention. He turned to me with some alarm in his face.
I said, 'Excuse me,' and I saw the alarm increase as he realized I was going to speak with him. A total stranger was going to say something and it caused him tension. I noticed this, in the way that people do, but continued.
'You are a kind man,' I said, 'I appreciated you moving over and using the centre seat to recline, it was really considerate and it made my flight better.'
Relief flooded his face, he said, quietly, 'My faith leads me to kindness.' He looked at me, like I might disagree.
'And mine leads me to gratitude, we're a good pair,' I said and he laughed.
As he gathered his stuff and readied to leave the plane, he turned and said, 'Thank you. Just, thank you.'
I am very aware of what it is to live different in a world hostile to difference. I am very away of the constant threat of conversations becoming confrontations. I am very aware.
I can forget that there are other differences. Other dangers for other people. Perhaps if more were moved to kindness and more were moved to gratitude our world can change. I'm not exactly sure how, but I know that I have been changed because of that brief conversation on the plane. I think my heart may be a little wiser because it knows it has to also be a little bigger.