Stories of Kindness from Around the World

In Flight From San Francisco

--by Marianna, posted May 25, 2009
Airports, even familiar airport, are very difficult to negotiate alone, when you have lost a good deal of your eyesight, as I have.  Boarding a recent flight out of San Francisco, I sank into my seat with relief and belted myself in.  I was seated at the bulk head on the aisle.  The window seat was occupied by an elegant older man.  There was an empty seat between us.  Looking to escape the tension of the past half hour, I put my purse on it and took out a murder mystery and began to read.  When lunch was served an hour later, I was deeply engrossed, the book inches from my nose.  We were given a salad, a bagel, and a pint container of yogurt.  Times have changed.

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]
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Readers Comments

ssthakur wrote: Probably ons agony is nothing. Some body else with more agony is inspiration to face the chalenge ahead. Yet it is life which teaches oneself how to take it ad it comes.
Helen wrote: This is a wonderful and touching story!
mynona wrote: You wonderful compassionate soul, we all need each other and should treat strangers in need like family.
E Raman wrote: Amazing story. Very intresting and touching.

Thanks for sharing
pat wrote: A marvellous story. Thanks for sharing!
Passion wrote: That was very sweet of you to help out that way. Thanks for sharing that wonderful story!
Shay wrote: Just as you washed this mans feet so it reminds me jesus taught us to wash one anothers feet. We should be ready,willing servants of each other.

In doing to the least of these so are you doing unto me.

I've been blessed and inspired.
kjppjkkjp wrote: What a fabulous story! Very touching!
Sanjay wrote: It was nice that the airlines were touched enough to acknowledge your act atleast later on that the pilot himself paid attention, then they must've discussed about it. This story serves an important reminder to me to overcome hesitation in reaching out to strangers.

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