On a recent flight from Houston to Cleveland, Blake and I sat by the nicest old man. He was thrilled to sit by Blake, which was refreshing, because I can see the heavy sigh of most people who find that they are stuck on the row with/behind/in front of the kid. Instead, most of the heavy sighs were coming from the people waiting to take their seats while this guy tried to figure out how to get his bag in the overhead compartment. He was on his way to be there for the birth of his 9th grandchild, he said he hated to travel, but wouldn’t miss this for the world. We talked about all sorts of things before the plane took off, but he was obviously hard of hearing so once the engines hit full force, it became pretty difficult to keep chatting. I ran interception between him and the flight attendants, and he seemed grateful for the help. When I meet people who are wary of traveling, I always hope that people will be helpful to them. It’s so easy for us to get in a hurry and get annoyed with those who are trying to figure out what’s going on. It’s one of the reasons my mom hates getting on a plane, and the idea of someone rolling their eyes at her makes me want to…pinch them. Blake was in the middle seat, and he fell asleep with his head in my lap for the whole flight. By the end of the flight he had completely sprawled out and this kind man simply lifted his armrest and tried to work around having Blake’s feet in his lap. I wish I had taken a picture.
Anyways, I digress (typical). As we were waiting to get off the plane, he explained that he lost about 90% of his hearing “as a kid in the war.” I asked what happened, and he simply said, “Artillery.” After a pause, I couldn’t help but say, “I hope you know how many people are grateful for your sacrifice.” His response blew me away. In his next breath, this old cowboy literally let out a sob. He looked out the window while he regained his composure. He looked back at me with tears in his eyes and a smile on his face, and said, “I did what I had to.” All I could do was reach over and pat him on the shoulder. I could tell that the attention embarrassed him, but I also knew that he was grateful to be appreciated.
Please, oh please, take the time to get to know someone who you would normally ignore. Our generation, especially, tends to think that people who could be our grandparents are probably not people we could relate to. This experience reminded me again that we have so much to learn from people who have lived long, amazing lives. Not to mention the fact that this veteran gave up a lifetime of hearing to serve his country. Amazing.