On a flight the other day a fellow passenger lumbered slowly in front of me. She was one of those people who elbow themselves to get on the plane first. Usually these ‘important’ people are frequent travelers and they are pretty swift about getting on the plane. They get on quickly, set themselves up, and get out of everyone’s way. So it’s usually not much of a big deal.
This time I got caught. Not only did she walk at a snail's pace but she managed to hold her bags in a way that prevented anyone getting past her. I took a deep breath; my attitude is to not let these sorts of things bother me when I travel.
Of course, she was sitting next to me. So I waited patiently as she hoisted her bag in the overhead bins and I tried not to notice the bad mood that enveloped her. “Poor thing, she must have had a terrible trip” I said to myself, attempting compassion. As she fumbled to find the electrical outlet under her seat I put the flashlight on my phone and helped her plug her phone in.
She never really cheered up, everything seemed like hard work to her. My powers of positivity were put to the test and it was hard not to be sucked into her vortex of misery. It was a great reminder that not everyone can find the joy in life. A great reminder that we are not all self-awareness focussed, yoga practicing, seekers of calm.
On arrival in LA my patience came to an abrupt end. I needed to step behind her to retrieve my bag. Once the masses try to exit the plane, swimming against the stream to get your bag becomes an extreme sport. Having retrieved her bag she stood stoically in the aisle, unresponsive to my request that she move so I could slip back. It was pretty obvious she didn’t give a single shit about inconveniencing me or anyone else.
“BITCH!” I said to myself, and added “what a shitty human.” I both hated myself for my judgment but at the same time couldn’t believe what I was witnessing. With almost no effort she could have created space not just for me but two other people who also needed their bags. Who does this?
And of course the answer is, a lot of people do this sort of thing. Every day. A lot of people do it on purpose and a lot of people do it with no awareness of the impact they are having. On others and themselves.
So what do we do in these moments? How do we respond when we have chosen to lead a life oriented to kindness and to ‘play nice’ with others? Are we just supposed to let this stuff roll over us?
On this occasion I couldn’t help myself. I didn't allow this to roll over me. As I stepped off the plane and passed her, I sarcastically said in her direction “thanks for helping me get my bags”. As I heard her choking on a reply, I immediately felt terrible. I had failed to live up to my personal standard and I didn’t feel good about it at all.
Ultimately that is what I think is important; our job is to live up to the standards we set for ourselves. The important thing is not how others behave but how we behave. It’s not at all about other people’s standards, it was my response that mattered.
Travel is one of those things in life where you get to see people at their best and people at their worst. My preference is to see people at their best. I strive to look for the good in people and treat my fellow travelers - on planes and in life - with dignity and humanity. Or at least I try.
Maybe I will do a little better on the next test life throws me - I’m heading to the airport right now...wish me luck!