Life lobs brilliant fastballs of enlightenment to remind us of our humanity and to force us to check in and see each other as complete and kindred souls. Recently on a short flight hopping from one Midwest town to another, I was seated in the first row of a tiny regional jet. My original seat was to be 2A, but a man with special needs had erroneously sat in my seat and the flight attendant consequently asked that I take his instead. 1A. While the Embraer jet I was traveling on did not offer first class, I felt special. This would be a proper occasion to finish off a long workweek with a glass of airline wine and a book.
I no sooner pulled my book from my laptop case than the gentleman sitting in 2A interrupted me. He did not have the same agenda as I for our short time together. His was built more around getting to know as many people on the aircraft as possible. He asked targeted, information harvesting questions of all of us, like what books we were reading and where we were headed. He then pressed on with a series of drill down questions about why each of us was going to our intended destination and what we planned to do once there. To my delight and surprise, my fellow passengers not only indulged him, they embraced him. Using careful tones and offering complete thoughts, they diligently answered each of his questions.
I learned that his name was Adolfus, that he was the youngest of the four sons his mother had recently left behind when she died suddenly of heart disease, that he loved to read and that he was saving “14.99 plus tax” for a new book. He was headed to Syracuse for a family reunion on his “granddaddy’s side” and he needed an escort when we arrived in Chicago as he had a past experience getting lost in ORD. He was an enchanting man with an enormous intellectual capacity and an even bigger social capacity. His gentle manner, warm brown eyes, and mild, deliberate tone suggested that he deeply cared about the answers to the questions he was asking and that he had never considered wasting the opportunity to get to know the people around him, however captive we may have been.
I earlier recognized that he had been brought to the airport by a person I now understood was his brother, and I was struck by how many people must have touched his life to have him turn out this way. He undoubtedly owed his sweet nature to his family, but was likely nurtured along the way by teachers, aides, and counselors. I listened the rest of the flight as he sang happy tunes, and marveled, with an enthusiasm typically assigned to children, at the sights out the window. He not only understood everything, he understood it was not to be taken for granted. I could not help but deeply internalize the idea that he had not only lost his mother, but that she must have worried tremendously in her final moments about who would take care of her special son.
I never did order wine or read my book on that short flight, but I did re evaluate the way I interact with the world and more importantly the way I allow it to interact with me. Adolfus was not on my agenda that day, but he will be forever in my thoughts as a smart man who knew much more than the world would largely give him credit for.