Today, I was reminded of the delightful reward of being present. And of being kind.
It is mid September. For as long as I’ve been a software marketer, every turn of the calendar to September is like the turn of a southern debutante at the coming out ball: backed with hours of meticulously detailed preparation, carefully considered choreography and a mind-numbing amount of work. Each and every September I am hip- deep in my version of announcing a debutante. Mine is one in a sea of lovely new enterprise software coding “offspring” that is swanned around the veritable cotillion of technology industry tradeshows, each vying for the perfect blend of attention and social advance.
Caught up in this swirl of work, today I boarded a plane for a quick two-city business trip, to lay the foundation for my upcoming marketing events. While I pride myself on my ability to constantly juggle and accomplish the ever-changing pile of work to-do’s, inevitably in September I drop a whole lot of other connections. I almost missed two today on the plane: Jimmy and Janet.
I was looking forward to this flight. Since I was flying Virgin America, I’d made a deal with myself: after two weeks of very late nights of work, if I could manage to finish editing a partner prospectus, I would treat myself to to movie on the flight. Unlike me, I packed headphones and even did advance check-in to get my seat situated.
So, when I got to my row and saw an older woman sitting in my assigned seat, leaving a middle seat between her and her husband, I was a little bummed. But I gamely wedged in between the two of them and their many overstuffed bags of travel items, and set right to finishing an email before the flight. But my seat mates had other plans. “Thank you so much, sweet, for taking the seat,” said the man. “My wife likes to lean against the window.”
Sure, no problem. And I went back to my detailed instruction to a colleague via email.
“My name is Jimmy and this is my wife, Janet,” he beamed, flashing a broad smile through a very thick accent. “What is your name, sweet?”
The feminist in me prickled a bit at this diminutive, but I explained my name and stuck my nose back into my work.
They became quiet, so I worked away, excited when I still had time for movie. After putting in my earbuds and paying for a movie, Jimmy leaned over and asked how I got the movie to work. I explained the on-demand channel and that it required a credit card. He thanked me. Five minutes later, Janet asked where I got my earbuds. I pulled them off again and showed her how she could order some for $3. “Can I give you cash, sweet, for some?” No sorry, but the airline said they only took credit cards.
To my left and to my right, each member of the 50+ year couple, chose to nap quietly instead of fight the array of digital prompts and requirement on their seat back entertainment systems.
When they rallied for a bathroom break, I did too. And on my way back I asked the flight attendant if I might buy headsets for my two elderly neighbors. She gave me two sets with a smile: “it’s on us.”
I returned with my two cheaply-manufactured offerings and my seat mates responded as if I’d delivered them a lobster dinner. “What, for me? And even some for him? Oh, you are so darling.”
I set each one up with a show. News for him: “Any stations where I can learn something new and good about Hillary,” he said with a wink. “Oh, I think a movie, for me,” she said.
Reabsorbed into a romantic drama, I lost track of them both until I noticed lots of rattling packages and whispered comments between the husband and wife, with lots of hand signals. Seemingly, many of the hand signals were pointed at me.
“We thank you. And now, we eat.” Then from the bottom of their many bags, emerged a bounty : first sandwiches, then packages, and more rustling and rattling…and a bag of pistachios. And eventually, spread across their little drop-down tables, emerged a lovely Greek picnic.
“Please, eat with us. Especially this, this is for you, you must try. It is homemade, and you will love it. I made. You try.” And Janet handed me a small hand-held spinach pie, with an entreating smile.
It was at once soft and light, but dense and savory. It was a treat made with care and it tasted of kindness.
And as we broke bread together, a mile in the sky, we broke the barrier of strangers and the chokehold of work and reveled in simply being present.
A gift without measure.