His booming voice over the shuttle bus PA was kind and gentle. The bus driver proudly announced the assigned number of each shelter we had just left, hoping to prevent lost and confused travelers upon their return, just wanting to get home after a long day of traveling but not remembering where they had parked in the massive airport parking lot. When the shuttle bus had reached capacity, he made a note to stop at the 3 remaining shelters to let the waiting travelers know that his bus was full but there was another one coming just a few minutes behind. He could have just sped past if he wanted to. Perhaps he is required to stop at each, but I’d like to think that this kind soul relishes the personal moments, the connections he makes with people who are coming and going each day.
She exuded a joy. The coffee barista unabashedly shared details of her life unprompted like the new wig she was wearing over the short newly grown grey hair underneath, a side effect of the chemo therapy she was undergoing. She shared frustration she had with her coworker who worked yesterday and apparently had left a share of his responsibilities for her to do. “They need to get off their phones once in a while,” she said, as a remark to her young millennial co-workers. The comment wasn’t plagued with discontent thought, more so wisdom of many years of life experience. She recounted all the things she had accomplished that morning after her 3am wake up call, perhaps looking for approval but more likely just wanting to be known by someone that day. To some she may seem like an over-sharer, a barrier that stands between their coffee and impending flight boarding time. The young college-aged male customer in front of me never acted that way, though, and he seemed to absorb the joy from her, delightfully taking time to chat as sustenance for his journey ahead. Perhaps impressed by his care, I did so too, and as I walked away, I mentally noted that stopping by this particular coffee shop was the best decision I had made so far that day. I imagine all the lives she is able to touch working in an airport and I worry that her joyful scattered presence is lost and unappreciated in a place so plagued by the rush of getting to the next place, doing the next thing.
I looked up at the boy, then down at my boarding pass and then back to the boy again. He was a cute kid full of excitement and eagerness for the flight ahead. But there was a problem; he was also in my seat, 23E. I quickly scanned the row to find an adult and met the eyes of a women in her late 30s. I pointed to my boarding pass and asked if there may have been a mistake with the seating. She let out a stressed sigh and explained that she knows she paid the extra fee to have the 5 kids under her care sit together but their assigned seats were scattered across the back half of the airplane. I scanned the row again and saw the other four kids who filled up the row, admittedly none of them as excited as the boy in 23E. The airline attendant swiftly stepped in wanting to alleviate the problem, but I quickly rebutted stating that any seat is fine and just asked for one of the seats she was assigned to originally so I could get out of the aisle. The mom’s stress was clear, and she repeated that she had made sure to purchase the seats together, so she did not cause stress for other passengers. I quickly found an open seat behind them, the airline attendant stepped away to assist another passenger, and the slight moment of tension subsided.
Once the flight took off, the airline attendant purposefully returned to the mom in mid-flight, crouched down to the side of her seat in the aisle, and began a light and casual exchange explaining how sometimes issues with seat assignments happen when tickets are purchased off third party sites and assured the mom that she was OK. Through the conversation, relief seemed to take over as the mother smiled in her response, comforted by knowing that she was heard and that she wasn’t seen as dishonest. This small moment of acknowledgement and connection brought a smile to my face, too.
In the day to day hustle, I often neglect to notice these little moments, moments of recognizing others for who they are, for being intentional in their actions and for showing up to the day with a desire to serve. It is often only when I am traveling and “off the clock” that I can remove myself from the to-do list grind and see others consistently, when our world often tells us to only watch out for ourselves.
Is there any truth to building community through silent recognition and appreciation in our own mind and thoughts? Must we always be an active participant if we want to create community with others? Perhaps through this intentional observation we can experience a connection with others, a feeling as though we belong to each other. For me, it provides a feeling of peace and yet also, a mobilization to be kind and intentional in my interactions with others too. It’s a “pay it forward” mentality in the simplest of terms, in the intangible ways of kindness and love.
Photo by Rachel Joray