The woman ahead of me WAS me

airplane-nightIt had been a long weekend, and an emotionally draining trip to visit a dear cousin who was terribly ill. By the time my plane landed at my home airport, it was late at night. I was exhausted, and tired of everything: security screenings, having to keep track of my boarding passes, sitting in cramped seats with no leg room. Once the plane landed on solid ground, it seemed that we were forced to wait forever before being allowed to leave it. Overhead bins were popped open, carry-on luggage pulled down, but still we waited. I was exhausted.

Finally, there was movement up ahead. People began to make their way down the narrow aisle toward the exit. I was able to move out of my row and head toward the front of the plane.

But the older woman ahead of me was moving slowly, pulling a small suitcase behind her. I gritted my teeth in irritation: why couldn’t she go faster? A gap opened up in front of her; why didn’t she speed up and close it? I wanted to get off this plane, make my way through the nighttime airport, get outside and finally breathe some fresh air. I wanted to get home, to sleep in my own bed. This trip needed to be over.

The woman must have sensed my impatience. She glanced back at me several times and then remarked, awkwardly, “I’m sorry. I’m kind of slow.”

I suddenly felt ashamed. Was getting off the plane quickly so important that it was worth making her feel bad about herself? Would a few extra minutes really make that much of a difference? Of course it wouldn’t.

“Oh, I’m too tired to move fast anyway,” I managed. “We’ll all be off this plane soon enough.”

Small gestures, big impact

She flashed me a tired smile and continued her slow, steady progress up the aisle.

I had a sudden memory of how kind people had been to me after I’d had knee surgery and was getting around on crutches. Strangers held doors open for me. No one rushed me. It wasn’t until I experienced physical limitations of my own that I realized the impact that small gestures could have. At the time, with my mobility compromised, I was very grateful for those acts of kindness.

Something to work on

I realized that the woman ahead of me was me…in the future. We are all aging. We will all get slower. We will all of us depend upon the kindness of strangers.

I appreciated the lesson I’d learned from her. I am naturally impatient — ask anyone who know me — but I need to remember that that impatience can have real, human consequences. I need to be kinder.

Something to work on.

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