In Flight From San Francisco
--by Marianna, posted May 25, 2009
Continuing to read, I tucked into my plate until my seatmate gasped in dismay. Turning my head slightly, I saw that he had upset his full container of yogurt onto the floor, spilling it onto his shoes, the rug and part of his overnight bag. He was looking out of the window. I was waited for him to take some action, but nothing happened. Looking down again, I saw that he was slowly drawing his right foot, the shoe covered with yogurt, until it was almost under the seat. I could now see his left foot clearly. His ankle was swollen and a metal brace emerged from his shoe. His left leg was paralyzed.
The seat belt sign was still on. I reached up and rang for the flight crew. No one responded. Sometime later when the drink cart arrived, I indicated the floor and ask the stewardess for a wet towel. Before I could say anything more, she went ballistic. "There are over four hundred and fifty two people on this plane," she snapped. "I'm doing the best I can. You'll just have to wait." Her defensiveness baffled me. We looked at each other in silence. Then, I realized that it had simply not occurred to her that I was a participant. "If you bring a wet towel, I will be able to get that up," I said quietly. She hesitated and I wondered if she had heard. Then she raised her eyebrows, turned on her heal, and brought a towel. After the cart had passed us, I looked again at my seatmate. He continued to look fixedly out the window, his left motionless, his right hidden under the seat.
"I used to love to fly, but I find it difficult now," I said, and I told him that in the past few years I have had trouble seeing. Still looking out the window, he told me that eight months he had suffered a stroke and now had no feeling in either of his arms, from his fingertips to his elbow. Yet he had flown half way across the country to spend some time in the home of his son. He was speaking almost in a whisper and I leaned toward him to hear. "Since my stroke, I'm incontinent," he said. "I have to wear a diaper." I marveled at the choreography of this chance seating arrangement. "I have an ileostomy," I said. He turned to look at me and asked what that was and I explained that my large intestine had been surgically removed and I wear a plastic appliance attached to the side of my abdomen to collect my partly digested food. I added, "Even after thirty years, I'm concerned that it may leak, especially on a plane." After a moment, we smiled at each other. Then he looked at the towel I was holding and I looked down at his feet. As we talked, he had brought his right foot out from under the seat. "May I?" I asked, motioning with the towel. Kneeling, I began to wipe his shoes. As I was doing this, he leaned forward and told me, "I used to play the violin ..."
When I returned the towel to the galley, two flight attendants thanked me profusely. Later, another who was serving me a coke, thanked me again. Nothing further was said, but when I left the plane, the pilot was standing in the doorway. I smiled and nodded as always, but he stopped me. "Thanks," he said and pressed something into my hand. Half way up the jet way, I looked at it. It was the little gift that the airlines often give to children after a flight, a pin in the shape of a pair of wings.
A flight crew deals with hundreds of thousands of Americans every year. Their surprise reaction to a simple act of kindness is chilling. Perhaps we are no longer a kind people. More and more we seem to have become numb to the suffering of others, and ashamed of our own suffering. Yet suffering is one of the universal conditions of being alive. We all suffer. We have become terribly vulnerable, not because we suffer, but because we have separated ourselves from each other.
A patient once told me that he had tried to ignore his own suffering and the suffering of other people because he had wanted to be happy. Yet becoming numb to the suffering will not make us happy. The part in us that feels suffering is the same as the part in us that feels joy.
[This story by Rachel Naomi Remen is from her best-selling book 'Kitchen Table Wisdom', page 145]
Thanks for sharing
In doing to the least of these so are you doing unto me.
I've been blessed and inspired.