Editor’s note: Back in 2005, I covered the annual Biotechnology Industry Organization convention in Boston as technology reporter for The Oklahoman. I was moved by an incident that happened on the flight back home and wrote about it in a column a week later. It’s short and not of anything of real consequence, but I’m proud of the message that it has. So, I’m sharing it in this blog.
I settled into my seat – row 24, seat D on the aisle – for a four-hour flight from Boston to Houston last week.
A woman occupied the window seat, and I was pleased to see the middle seat was empty.
Then I looked up and saw a really big man walking toward the back of the plane, and I knew where he was headed.
I mean “big” in the same way we envision Santa Claus as “big.” Rotund. My mom would be nice and say he was just big boned.
Anyway, I stood up and let the big guy into the middle seat. He spilled over into my seat and that of the poor woman in the window seat.
I resented every inch of his girth, but said nothing. I read my paper, listing toward the aisle.
I guess I couldn’t hide my discomfort because the flight attendant stopped and offered me another seat. She said she had only middle seats available. I said I was fine and went back to my paper.
Meanwhile, the big guy folded his arms, leaned his head back against the seat and closed his eyes.
The plane took off and here we were, swapping the cotton off our shirts as our bellies rubbed against one another. He slept. I read and fumed.
There he was, standing by the rear emergency exit adjacent to the two bathrooms and the galley. He was nursing a cup of coffee. ‘So there you are,’ I said, not knowing really what to say. ‘I wanted to give you some space,’ he replied.
About an hour into the flight, the big guy said he wanted to get up and stretch his legs. I gladly stood and let him out.
He went toward the back of the plane and disappeared.
Now I really could enjoy the paper and the book I brought with me.
But time went by and I began to wonder where the big guy was. An hour ticked off, then two hours. I decided to wander back to the rear of the plane and see if I could find him.
There he was, standing by the rear emergency exit adjacent to the two bathrooms and the galley. He was nursing a cup of coffee.
“So there you are,” I said, not knowing really what to say.
“I wanted to give you some space,” he replied.
I went back to my seat.
About 45 minutes before we landed in Houston, the big guy reclaimed his middle seat.
I didn’t mind so much now.
“I really appreciate what you did,” I said to him. “You certainly didn’t have to do that.”
“You deserved it,” he said. “Is your mother still living?”
“Yes, she is.”
“Then do something nice for her on Mother’s Day.”
I felt about one-inch tall.
The plane landed, and we departed with no more words. I regretted that I didn’t ask his name or even introduce myself.
So, on Sunday I called Mom, wished her a happy Mother’s Day and told her this story. She told me it made her day.
Thank you for the present, big guy.