Anyone who says “it’s all about the journey” doesn’t fly coach.
I used to travel a lot for work. But because I traveled all over the country, and booked my flights based on convenience and price rather than brand loyalty, I flew on a lot of different airlines. I ALMOST achieved premier status on several different airlines, but never reached this exalted state on any single one. As a result, I flew coach.
Contorted like a pretzel, crammed like sardines—flying coach makes one simultaneously uncomfortable, pissed off, AND cliché.
I like people, generally. At least in theory. But when I fly, I become an angry, hard-hearted misanthrope.
One day, a couple Decembers ago, I found myself on the final leg of my trip, hating everyone on the plane for variety of reasons:
For being too cheap to check their luggage, making the boarding process slow and tedious as they awkwardly bobbled their oversized bags into the overhead bins.
For bringing heavy winter coats, then rolling them into St. Bernard-sized balls and stuffing them in the overhead compartments, eliminating approximately 1/3 of the available space. (This, even as harried flight attendants implored them to “please hold your coats until everyone has had a chance to place their carry-on luggage in the overhead bins…”)
For flying standby, despite being a large, broad-shouldered man, and occupying what was SUPPOSED to be the empty middle seat next to me—robbing me of six inches of my own space and forcing me to sit at a 75 degree angle like someone trying to avoid a painful hemorrhoid.
For jumping up out of their seats the moment the plane came to a stop and trying to barge in front of people to exit faster, even though we’re seated in row 32, dumbass, so where exactly do you think you’re going?
For still being too cheap to check their luggage (I hate these people TWICE each flight). And for performing the “drag and drop,” whereby individuals tug at their cumbersome bags until they fall from the overhead bins onto the people who were smart enough to remain seated, but not smart enough to fly in a private jet.
As I finally deplaned and made my way down the jetway, I was already hating people in a proactive way—not even waiting to reach the baggage area before despising them for how I knew they would behave: their over-eager pushing and crowding around the carousel like hyenas battling over a fresh kill.
As I entered the terminal, the sound of angels singing.
OK, not quite angels, but close. A high school choral group was singing Christmas carols a cappella in three-part harmony.
It is impossible to remain an asshole in the face of such simple beauty.
I stopped, and then walked closer to listen, the petty anger and cynicism melting from my heart.
The purity of their voices, their rich harmonies, their youth and earnestness—all such a contrast to the way I’d felt just moments before. As the sound embraced me, I found myself blinking back tears, as I sometimes do when surprised by a sunset, or the utter innocence of a baby’s stare. Or, it seems, a cappella singing in Concourse A of the Tulsa International Airport.
There’s something so vulnerable about pure, simple, beautiful things in this big–often ugly—world.
And yet I am hopeful that the simple and the beautiful may prove more powerful than the angry and the cynical.
It’s a hope that grows stronger in me as I’m assaulted by each day’s news cycle.
So for this holiday season, and all the days and months to come…
Be kind. Be open. Be gentle. Create beauty. Lead with love.