Planes are filled with stories. On my planes, the seats are filled with anywhere from 69 to 76 stories, depending on the jet. This was back when the planes were full. Now, they appear to have more like 20 to 40 stories, but those stories are no less powerful.
The stories were something I had to remind myself about when I started this job.
I first ran into the concept of story during a meeting I attended back in 1999. Out of 20 potential attendees, only three of us showed up: myself, my boyfriend at the time, and one other person. We sat, had dinner, and then we shared our stories.
The other person was a woman who came across as strong, determined, and at times, controlling. She was one of those people who was loved, hated, and perhaps someone people simply loved to hate. She had a reputation for being tough. That’s how I knew her. She was a tough, strong, woman … who pissed me off from time to time. I admired and respected her.
As we shared our meal that day, we shared our stories. She shared her story as a survivor of domestic abuse.
When you think about domestic abuse, what image comes to mind?
For me it is not the image of this woman.
They tell us to not judge a book by its cover, right? It’s important to remember that a person’s image and their story could be two different things. It is often forgotten that this is true for everybody.
I forget. I had forgotten last Friday. Then the story unfolded.
I was working the front of the plane. As passengers boarded, I greeted them through my mask and handed each passenger a Purell wipe. They boarded, we took off, and once it was safe to do so, I walked down the aisle to collect any trash.
One passenger waved me over. She asked, “Can I have something to drink?” I leaned in and said, “Sure, what can I get you? Water? Soda?” She shook her head, looked me in the eye, and I saw that tears were flooding hers. She said, “My brother just died.”
I’m not very experienced with death. Also, my view of death is very pragmatic. I have to work a little harder at the empathy and sympathy when I am around people who are experiencing that kind of loss. My instincts told me to sit in the seat next to her and offer her my hand. This is the era of social distancing, so I wasn’t going to touch her, but I gave her the option to reach out, and she did.
We sat for a few minutes, which I tried to fill with a question or two. Is this her only flight today? No. Is she headed to the funeral? She said she was going to be with her mother. I did not ask what he died from.
We sat in silence for a few minutes. She held my hand. I finally turned to her and said, “What can I get you to drink? Water?” No response. “Coke? Ginger Ale?” No response. “Wine?” She nods her head. I go to my galley to get her the requested beverage. While I am gone, a friend of hers who is sitting in another row, moves up to sit with her.
It was that moment that reminded me that every passenger has a story. During this pandemic, these stories are probably a little more tragic than usual. We often ask people if they are flying for business or pleasure. With almost 100,000 lives gone at the time of this writing, there is a greater chance that many are flying due to loss.
Each of us has a story, every single person.