I like to think of myself as completely non-judgmental. Do anything, feel anything you want. We’re all human and different and complicated and anyway, life is hard. We’re all just doing the best we can with what we have. But there’s an exception. In my mind, to total strangers in a crowd, in their cars, sitting next to me on planes — I’m not gracious. I’m not accepting. I’m not even nice.
This hit me today on the plane. I was sitting in first class and the man who sat next to me gave all the signs (I thought) of the self-entitled. Once he got to his seat and realized the overhead was full, he handed his bag to a man just boarding the plane (who was headed for coach, of course) and asked him to put it in the overhead next to him. Then he sprawled out and took up as much as space as possible and ordered two Jack Daniels with Sprite. (Seriously.)
So there I was with my laptop and my headphones and my bubble of privacy and as we were descending, he, reading the flight magazine, turned to me and started talking. My first thought was: am I not in my bubble of privacy?
And this is how people surprise you.
He told me how much he was enjoying reading the in-flight magazine. And he showed me all of the winning photos from the photography contest and wasn’t it wonderful? The photos were amazing — he went through them one by one: have you seen a fish like this? A glacier this beautiful? And he started winning me over a little.
But then he showed me all the notes he had taken on a piece of paper from the ideas he had gotten from the articles in the magazine. He works too much (he looked as though he should be long retired), he said. He forgets about all of the great things in his hometown. He showed me his list.
Look, he said. I have this boat. I could dock it in the bay and invite friends over and we could just hang out and watch the water and the sky. And I haven’t been out to these falls in a really long time. And they’re great. And look at this crazy word. I love words like this. Maybe it’ll be my new computer password. I wrote it down.
And it amazed me that this person who I had made this snap judgment about. Had turned into a one-dimensional cardboard cutout. Was human. As we all are. And was excited about the wonders of life. And was having trouble, as we all do, figuring out how to make it all work.
I told him I would read the in flight magazine on the way back. And maybe I’ll make some notes of my own.