A Travel Story
I just found this in the notebook that I took on my trip to Malawi. I hardly remember writing it — I was in that delusional travel state, where you’re processing a lot and running on very little.
I think it’s a good portrait of the fragility of that moment. And if nothing else, it’s a nice (half) memory for me. So I’m sharing it here.
Late last night I was on a plane headed from Malawi to Nairobi. It was the first of four in my 28 hour voyage home after ten days in the field— the most recent of which had each been fifteen hours long.
I was tired.
After fighting for overhead compartment space and muscling through a crowd of idiots who had, for God knows what reason, chosen to stand in the isle like they were lost, I finally got to sit down.
As I quickly hunched over to place my bag below the seat, an old man carelessly plopped into the chair in front of me. He could’ve yelled “cannonball” as hard as he fell into that thing. His seat slammed backwards— right into the top of my head.
I was pissed off immediately. I wanted to punch his seat. Or yell something. Send a message. I could see top of his head; gray hair balding, a slightly sun-burned scalp. I just glared at it. I hated him.
And as I sat there, teeming with anger, his seat reclined. Reclined! Within inches of my face. WE HAVEN’T EVEN TAKEN OFF YET. My knees (I’m a tall man)… forced to dig into the back of his chair.
I was about to lose it. That was my breaking point.
Suddenly, he turned around.
Half smiling, face weathered from years of travel and life, he spoke with the most charming Norwegian accent, “Is thees okay? You have room?”
I couldn’t respond.
Because in his eyes, I instantly saw my dad and my dad’s dad (who passed away last year). Sunken. Light colored. Watery. Loving and kind. It completely caught me off guard.
"Yes," I lied. "I’m fine. Thank you."
He smiled, winked just like my grandpa would’ve and then turned around and placed a pillow between his seat and the one next to him so he could share it with his wife.
Air travel is hard. It’s exhausting. We’re all in a hurry. Tired. Leaving a place we’ll miss or headed somewhere we’re less excited to go.
But we still get to choose how we treat the people around us. And the difference that one smile makes. Man. I hope that’s something I never forget.