The Japanese Man, Frank, and Michael
--by keymaker, posted Oct 6, 2006
The Japanese man points to my airplane seat, right as I head to the bathroom. He didn't speak much English, so I just signal that I'll be back in couple minutes. When I return, we play charades to see if he wants to swap his aisle seat with my window seat. "Yes, yes," he says with a child-like glee.
I am more than happy to oblige. My window shutter has been down for couple hours of the flight already and I am hardly planning on making any further use of it.
Right before he changes seats, he folds his hands and bows as a gesture of gratitude. It's touching when someone is thankful for something that takes almost no effort on your part.
Before he can even get settled in, he slides up the window shutter and curiously looks outside at the clouds. He's happy. I can just tell. And that he's happy, makes me so glad that I got the chance to trade seats with him. Over the next half hour, I see him constantly gazing out and innocently taking out his old camcorder for recording what he saw. Perhaps it was his time on the plane, perhaps he was recording his memories to share with his family back home. Who knows.
As our plane lands at Newark International Airport, I'm still thinking about how such a small sacrifice can create so much joy for someone else. In fact, I'm elated just thinking about that. And I wonder if there are more of those opportunities lurking around me.
I'm at Baggage Claim. And my bags always seems to be in the last batch, :) so I'm waiting and waiting. Right next to me is an old man, dressed in a long-sleeve black denim shirt, black jeans and black shoes with velcro straps. Almost every couple minutes, he will try to pick up a bag, fumble with it and drop it. His arms too weak to lift any of those bags so I went up to him to offer help: "Sir, let me help with that bag. It's a big bag." As I move the bag off the conveyor belt, I ask him, "Is this yours?" "Um, um, no." Ok, I put it back on the conveyor belt. We repeat the exercise couple times, when he feels comfortable enough to tell me, "I don't know if that's my bag. I can't see too much. My eyes are very bad."
I take a moment to digest the sorrow of an almost-blind man left alone to fetch his belongings. "But look for this tag on it," he interrupts my train of thoughts while pointing to a "Frank Vitrolli" tag on his hand-bag. "Oh, ok, no problem," I say without skipping a beat. "It should be a small, black bag." Of course, every bag is a small, black bag so I take each one and look for the tag. Nope not that one, nope that one, nope that one. "This is very nice of you," he tells me in his thick, Italian Brooklyn kind of accent with an innonece that only children and elders have. I notice that his hand is shaking a bit, probably due to some medical condition. A few moments later, "Hey Frank, I think we've got jackpot here. Here you go. This is it, isn't it?" I lift the bag close to his eyes and he acknowledges, "Yeah, yeah, that's it."
Frank looks straight at my face and matter-of-factly says, "That was very kind of you. You didn't have to do that. Thank you." I didn't know what to say, because the truth is that it was actually my privilege to have the opportunity to serve. "Oh, no problem at all. Now, do you know where to go from here?" I ask. "If you can just lead me to a door, I have a ride coming to pick me up," he replies. I escort him to the door and bid him goodbye. In some odd sort of a way, I felt that he could've my grandfather in another time and space and I honestly felt quite lucky to have had the chance to lift some of his weight.
Two simple acts of kindness in one day. I am diggin' it! I had to take a connecting train before I reached my destination, so I ask the information booth guy about it and he says, "Yeah, well you first take the bus to the Penn Station and then catch the NJ transit from there." Ok. So I walk on down there.
At the bus stop, I ask a gentleman if this is the right place for Bus #62. "Yeah, this is it. In fact, I'm also going on the same bus." "Oh that's great. Do you what time it's expected?" "6:13PM is what the schedule says." "Excellent." It turns out, he's been a flight attendant with Continental Airlines for 25 years -- which explained his white-shirt and tie attire. One thing led to another, and I'm talking to him about the story of a flight attendant who started Airline Ambassadors where airline hostesses use their luggage space to carry donated items for children in developing countries that they have lay-overs in.
He's totally blown away. "Wow, I'd like to sign up for that. In fact, my wife works for United and she escorts special-needs dogs from one city to another. But she only flies domestic; I think she'l love this." We talk about the state of the world, the need for good to rise up. I tell him the story of how one of my friends tagged an entire plane with smile stones, how one guy proposed to his fiance by having everyone on the plane give her a rose before he got on one bended knee, and how so much can happen even on an airplane. He shares thoughts about the need for good in the world, and I am quick to show him one of my lone remaining smile cards from my wallet. "Amazing. This is really neat. My wife, my wife is going to love this soooo much!"
"So you know when to get off?" "Oh, yeah, I'll tell you. I'm getting off at the same stop." We are seated facing each other on the bus, as people are passing in between us. Half way through the conversation, he extends his hand to say. "By the way, I'm Michael." We keep talking about ideas to bring some good in the world.
"You see, if you ask me, right next to those Sky Mall catalogs, we need to have a booklet with inspiring stories like these. I mean, why not? It's a captive audience, they're looking for something to read anyhow, and I bet some rich person would be happy to get 1000 of those printed without any commercial messages," I challenge him further. "Yeah, that's right. That's so right. I don't know why nobody does that. It's probably because those guys in the upper ranks, those guys see a different world altogether." "But we should do that. Maybe we can just start with one plane." "Yeah, why not?" "How many in one plane?" "Oh, you know, about 270 or so, depending on the size of the plane."
By the time we get off the bus, we feel like old friends. "Let me drop me you off to the train since you're new to the area." "No, no. I'll figure it out. You go on." "No, no, let's just go inside and figure it out." He goes out of his way to drop me off inside. We ask another woman to help us and she gladly walks with us for 5 minutes to help us too! The feel-good vibe must've been in the air. Or something.
Finally, I get to the my train platform and Michael takes off.
I look at the train map. It turns out that the guy at the info-desk gave me the wrong information! I didn't need to take the bus after all; I could've taken this train directly from the airport.
Wow. What a conspiracy of the universe!
Sometimes I wonder if it is all setup: the Japanese man, Frank Vitrolli, Michael Harrison, and the mis-informing info-center guy. Had I not traded my seats, I wouldn't be next to Frank in baggage claim; had I not taken the time to help Frank, I wouldn't have run into the mis-information guy; had I not taken the bus, I would've never met Michael.
And it all unfolded because I took that one very simple opportunity of service.