Today, I want to tell you a story that took place at an airport - multiple airports, in fact - a few years ago.
His name tag says “Michael”.
He works for Air Canada, and today,he is not having a very good day. A technical problem detected on a plane earlier is more serious than it appeared initially, so all the passengers have to de-board after already spending an hour on the plane.
Now, Michael is the only person dealing with a hundred people, all of whom need their flights rebooked. He’s already been yelled at twice in the last five minutes. “I am doing the best I can as fast as I can”, I hear him say a little defensively into the phone.
“How’s your day?”, I ask sympathetically, as I finally approach the desk after more than an hour's wait. I want to signal with my tone that I won’t be one of the snappy yelley people - that won’t be me, nope. I want to be kind.
He looks up. “Believe it or not, I’ve had worse”.
After entering some details into the computer, Michael hands me the boarding passes with a tired smile. What Michael does not know is that I am clutching a folded piece of paper in my hand - inside the paper, I scribbled “Thank you so much for doing your best!” right before approaching the counter.
“You are all set. Portland to Vancouver, and Vancouver to Toronto. I got you the only seat that was available on that last flight”.
I hand him the paper: “This is for you.”
He thanks me, surprised, and drops the note on the counter, without reading it, in a hurry to get to the next passenger.
I am slightly disappointed, as I have already envisioned Michael reading the note, and bursting into tears of gratitude, as we embrace each other.
“Even better”, I try to convince myself.
He will get to read it after - delayed impact! Much more effective!
Boarding passes in hand, I have many hours to kill until my flight to Vancouver.
I work. I have a greasy meal that now sits in my stomach. I walk around the airport. I take a selfie with a display skeleton in a store window. I work some more. I lie on the floor with my feet up the wall, feeling strung out on travel and homesick.
Finally, it is boarding time (again).
I head to the gate only to find… no sign of activity. Ten minutes pass. Fifteen. Finally, there is an announcement. My flight is going to be delayed. Again. By at least an hour. I feel myself… LOSING IT. All my serenity and kindness are evaporating and quickly.
With more time on my hands, I head to the closest snack store with a consolation-prize of a $20 airline voucher in hand. Veggie cup, boiled egg, beef jerky, Diet Cherry Coke, and an impulse angry purchase of Twizzlers. “Fuck it”, I think to myself. I can use some sweetness right about now.
Back at my gate, I sit on the floor, with my sort-of lunch in front of me.
Veggies first. I pop the cup open and set the lid filled with ranch sauce to the side, and reach for a carrot stick, as I feel a gaze on my shoulder. I feel annoyance rise in my stomach. I just want to be left alone right now. I was supposed to be in Toronto hours ago.
An older woman is standing over me, peering into my veggie cup, and giggling. “What IS that?”, she asks, pointing at the egg. “Omg, can you see it?”.
I.. am… so… very…. tired.
“It’s an egg”, I say flatly. “Can I see what?”.
“It has a face on it!”, the woman exclaims. I look closely. There are two small pieces of broccoli stuck to the smooth surface of the egg, in which only the most benevolent observer would see a face.
“Can you see it?”, the woman repeats.
“How long have YOU been at the airport?”, I snarl.
I regret my words almost immediately, as I see her face fall, as she walks away.
I finish the egg. The veggies. I munch on some beef jerky, and take a few swigs of Coke.
I ponder how easy it is to be kind when you are rested, and fed, and when you are about to board your first flight of the day.
It is much harder to be kind after spending ten hours in the airport, eating crappy food and feeling sorry for yourself.
Much harder, but much more important.
Better for the soul too.
And so, I open a pack of Twizzlers, and go around the waiting area, offering a piece to every single passenger waiting.
Perhaps, a fake strawberry flavored piece of candy is a questionable act of kindness. But it comes from the heart.
Two kids are thrilled.
Couple of teenagers - appreciative.
Most adults decline, but seem touched by the offer.
One flight down. One to go.
In Vancouver airport, I’m racing through the endless hallways to make a tight connection, made even tighter by the delayed flight. Boarding started ten minutes ago. I am selected for a random pat down by security. Then my bag is pulled for additional inspection.
Finally, through the last security check, I run to my gate. The airline attendants are checking in the last few passengers.
“Zone?” At this point, I barely remember my name.
“Zone on your boarding pass”, he explains.
“They are now boarding Zone 3”.
I glance down on my boarding pass.
What was it about this flight that Michael said? Ah yes:
“I got you the only seat that was available on that flight!”.
Few minutes later, I am settling into an extra wide seat, and stretching out into the seemingly infinite leg space.
Thank you, Michael, for being kind.
I will aim to do the same.