I’m flying home (boarding the plane last as usual) and since I have changed flights to grab an earlier flight home, I am in the very back of the plane. As I arrive at my seat, an older gentleman is trying to put a bag up in the overhead bin. I set my backpack down and reach up to help him. He quickly lets go as I take the weight off of him and sits down in the next row. I tuck his bag in and then realize I am sitting in the aisle seat right next to him.
He is staring out the window and hasn’t spoken a word to me. Now, I’m never one to desire a seat where someone is going to talk my ears off — I like my quiet time on the plane — but it seems like he could say thank you or appreciate the help. Or at least smile back at me. Maybe I embarrassed him by helping, but he sure let go quickly and sat down. I tried giving him the benefit of good intentions and remembering how lucky I was to be on this flight. But an hour into the flight and still not a word or glance from Mr. Stoic, I have drifted back to feeling unappreciated and unrecognized for being the selfless, helpful and positive seatmate that I am.
After the flight attendant provides us some drinks and snacks, he turns to me and this is when I realize there’s only one jerk on our row and it’s not him. “Hey thanks for the help earlier, I should have said something. I’m drained and distracted.” I immediately lied to him. “No problem, I didn’t give it a thought. Glad to help.” As he went on, I sank deeper and deeper into my chair, realizing the only unappreciative and ungrateful person was me.
“I’m returning home from Hawaii where I went to one of my best friend’s funeral. We served together in the Marines. I told our remaining buddy who lives there that I would not be back for his funeral as this trip is simply too exhausting. I really can’t do it again, but I am so glad I went. My son is picking me up at the airport. I had to move in with him about six months ago as I lost my wife this past year, too. We were married for over 60 years. I miss her every day.”
We continued chatting and when the wheels of our plane hit the runway, I jumped up out of my seat and had his bag down and ready to go. I thanked him for his service, wished him well and deplaned a little shorter but a better person thanks to him.
It’s so easy to let our guard down, to give control of our attitude away to circumstances. It was easy for me to make it about me rather than realizing we are here to serve and help others, especially when they are having a bad day. I hope that my life lesson and embarrassment might help you give someone who’s having a bad day the benefit of good intentions. It reminds me again—being grateful is a discipline, not a feeling.