I love the aisle seat on planes.
I stretch out, get up and walk around. Don’t need to inconvenience anyone when I have to wander.
Recently I flew back from the States after a long trip and was so happy and content to be going home in my aisle seat. I took off my sneakers, arranged my book and headphones, placed the pillow behind my back, and was totally at peace, looking forward to a smooth and maybe even enjoyable 10-hour flight.
Then a young man approached me. “My family missed our previous flight from San Francisco to NY by 15 minutes. We had to spend the night in a hotel. They put us on this flight but couldn’t find seats together. Would you mind moving so I can sit next to my 6 year-old son?”
I look over at their seats. “It’s a middle seat?” I ask. He shrugs.
It is impossible to estimate the number of voices going through my head right now. One voice says, “Of course. I’d be so happy to help you and your son. You’ll have such a nice father-son bonding on the long flight. Let’s switch!”
Actually, that voice was more of a whisper, barely discernible. The full-volume blaring voice in my head was saying, “I doggone can’t believe it. All the seats on the plane and it’s got to be mine that’s the problem! I’m so comfortable right now. A middle seat? Are you kidding me?! Let someone else have the honor.”
I pause and say, “Not sure.” I’m stalling for time and a miracle. I know it’s a full plane but maybe someone won’t show or they’ll bump them up to business class.
He places his son in the middle seat and we both can see that the kid is working very hard to hold back his tears. Then boom, the kid’s sobbing. Another voice in my head: “I know you’re only 6 years-old and you’re petrified to sit next to a stranger for 10 hours, but can you please get your act together.” I really am the worst person in the world.
I look at the father and say, “Ok, I’ll switch.”
In any case, we keep standing, waiting for the stewards, maybe they’ll find another solution.
Then a guy comes to sit in the other aisle seat (we were in the middle section). The father turns to him and repeats his story that his family is not sitting together, would he switch. The man says with a smile, “I really love the aisle seat and hate the middle seat, but fine.”
Whoah! Voice in my head says: “Wait a second!”
In a flash I’m intervening. “Wait a second – I said I’d switch. I said that I would take the middle seat!”
I’m arguing and roaring now to take the middle seat. No way this guy is going to take it away from me. I’ll battle him for it. I’m irate. After working through everything to find my better self, I’ll be darned if he’s not going to let me do the right thing. Ok, it did take me way too long to get there, but still, the kid’s father asked me first.
I’m amazed, once woken up, how resolute the voice of my better-self has become.
In the end, I took the middle seat and had an easy flight. The guy next to me drank 6 beers, fell asleep, and I could squeeze past him, free to wander and not disturb anyone.
But still I’m left dumbfounded by the sudden switch in the voices in my head – how could it be that one second I’m so bummed that I had the bad luck to be asked to move, and in the next second, I felt so chosen and privileged that I had been the one asked? I’m left astonished at how strong, once evoked, my urge to do kindness expressed itself.
I wish I had risen to the occasion faster, with more of a smile, and had helped them with more generosity. I wish I had heard my higher-self voice a little faster and a little better. I’m thankful to be reminded that my inner voice to give doesn’t give up. I am awed and inspired by how beautifully we are wired – it feels so good to do a kindness.
Next time will be easier. Guess I’m still a work-in-progress.