Be kinder than necessary, for everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle. -- John WatsonI've never been afraid of talking to strangers, probably to my parents' chagrin. I'm sure that classifies me as some kind of trendy personality type, but whatever: I like people. I travel a lot, but the most exciting part for me is the opportunity to meet the people who live there, and, if I'm lucky, get to find out something genuine about them.
Ten days after my kidney donation surgery, the hubby and I flew back to our home in Vancouver Island. I was a little nervous about it, and therefore a bit tense, and therefore a bit sore and achey as I boarded the first of three flights. It was a full plane, and we had to sit in different rows, but I wasn't really that bothered: I just wanted to sit down.
As I approached my row, I saw a man in the window seat. He was a big, husky man, with a face that might have been gentle, but it betrayed a tiny bit of nervousness. He asked me if I was going to be sitting next to him, and I nodded. "Would you mind if I just put my jacket up in the storage bin before you do?" he said. I told him that was fine, and once we deposited our things, we sat down and buckled ourselves in.
We watched the rest of the passengers get seated, then waited to take off. I glanced over at him a few times. I was in the mood for small talk, and I wondered if he would chat. Eventually, I said, "Are you going away or are you going home?"
"Oh," he said. "I'm going on a trip to Vancouver. My brother is there. What about you?"
"I'm going home after visiting my family," I said.
"Oh right," he said. Then, he paused. "I'm going to a treatment centre. For alcoholism."
I think he just needed to say it aloud. And I think he was half-expecting shock and horror.
"That's so great," I said. "Good for you. That's not an easy thing to do, but it's going to be fine."
And he looked at me, paused, and said, "Thank you," with a grateful smile.
We chatted a bit more about his work, and about my surgery, and then, just before we took off, I said, "You know, I used to weigh over 300 pounds. And while I was losing the weight, I had to learn to get over the guilt. Yes, I did it to myself, but I had to stop beating myself up about it. It was only then I could move forward. I'm sure you will, too." I wanted to tell him because I wanted him to know change was possible... to encourage him over his fears.
The plane lurched forward, and we took off, and we were soon at cruising altitude. He fell asleep shortly after that, and didn't even wake up as the flight attendants served us drinks. I bought a bar of chocolate, both to soothe my rolling stomach and to offer him a piece if he woke up. He stayed asleep for most of the flight.
As we began our descent, he awoke. He said, "Wow, I didn't think I'd slept for so long. I guess I was pretty tired. I didn't sleep too well last night."
"No," I said. "I suppose not."
The plane landed, and we walked off into the airport. At the gate, I turned to him, patted him heartily on the shoulder and said, "If I don't see you again, you'll be great. Everything will be fine."
"Thank you. Thank you," he said. He smiled, then walked off briskly. I never saw him again.
Today, I am inspired by people who are taking big, scary steps into the unknown, whether it is to improve themselves, or if change is being thrust upon them. Courage means facing the scary things, even when everything else inside of you is screaming to run the other way. It can be done.
Here's to you, Mr. Stranger. Everything will be ok.