Missed Perception

On one of my hold-my-breath-until-we-land flights a few months ago, I was the last passenger to enter the plane (my normal routine) and sat next to a nice-looking man who barely looked up.

But I looked him up and down, gauging how well the flight would go. Not garrulous, check. Not nervous, check. Not a drinker, check. All good to go.

But as I placed my purse under my seat and opened my book, I took offense. Perhaps this man – mid-30s – dismissed me already for being one of those things: a talker or a nervous flier or worse, just an “older woman” who was – dismissible. 

I shrugged my shoulders and sank into my book. Almost two hours into the flight, after I’d been reading without a stop and my seatmate had been clicking on his laptop nonstop (yup, harried businessman, I told myself), the flight attendant made an announcement that caused me to laugh out loud and the businessman laughed too and then…we looked at each other.

Has that happened to you before? You think you know someone from their outside appearance (old, young, teenager, academic, businessperson, clergy, European, African, mid-Western, male, female) and then suddenly, eyes focus on each other, and you think: ohhhhhhhh.

Our eyes clicked into recognition. Don’t ask me what we recognized, but we knew that we knew each other – the inside parts. We began to talk about where we’d just been (me: Atlanta, he: Brazil); where we were returning (both, Boston); what we’d been reading lately; why we liked to keep the plane’s window shade up the entire flight; our favorite country to visit; our favorite yoga position (me: upward dog, he: plow).

And then he opened his laptop and said, “I want to show you this Halloween ad. Some friends sent it to me in Facebook. Do you think it will ever be shown nationally?”

The ad shows a young brother and sister getting ready for Halloween. Their parents watch them run up and down the street, shouting “Trick or Treat!” Sister is dressed as Batman. Her brother? He’s Wonder Woman. Their parents hold hands, nod to each other, and support their children’s choice of costume. 

Tears ran down my cheeks as I came to the end of the ad, beautifully and lovingly created. My seatmate touched my hand and I peered up at him. His face was wet with tears also.

Soon after, the plane landed, but first, he “friended” me on Facebook, and I friended him back. We’ll probably never see each other again. But he knows that he has a friend in the universe – a middle-aged, married, non-garrulous, average, nervous-flier friend. And I have a friend in the universe: a smart, international businessman with a loving partner, a family who supports him, and a belief that the world is one step closer to accepting each of us the way we are.

Two days ago, my flying friend posted a Facebook message about his upcoming long trip to Asia. For fun, I commented: “Hope you get a wonderful seatmate for that long flight.”

He commented back immediately: “That would be a high bar to reach after you.”


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