Every time I see a heavier person boarding an airplane I think of a lovely man whom I was lucky to meet a few months ago. I’ve been a flight attendant for fifteen years. I was riding in the cabin with the rest of my crew. The flight was jam packed full. As we boarded the plane I noticed a young man towards the aft of the aircraft with a flushed and twisted up face who appeared to be pushed in to the window as the large man seated next to him was unintentionally encroaching on his personal space. And the funny thing about ‘personal space’ is that it’s virtually non existent on public transportation. Remember that the next time you travel…
As I passed the row I noticed the larger man was doing everything he could to take up less space. He had his arms crossed in front of him trying to pull his body in.
Almost like he wanted to disappear. He stared straight ahead and my heart broke a little because I could feel his anxiety. Believe me, this man was more uncomfortable and aware of his size than anyone else staring at him. I really hated thinking that this man was suffering with his own personal struggle in a public place and sitting right next to an angry man who was clearly not going to be pleasant to him for the next two hours! Most airlines have a backwards policy about seating. If you are unhappy with your seat or the size of the person seated next to you and the flight is full, well, then YOU can take another flight. Flight attendants really cannot do anything for you when there isn’t an open seat. Since I was traveling in the cabin I could actually help this time! I told the working flight attendant that I wanted to sit in that window seat next to the large man. She discreetly moved the very grateful window passenger to my assigned seat.
As I moved in to my new seat I was smiling so big! I was relieved to know this man would be next to someone nice ( that’s me! ). As he looked up I could tell he was quite surprised to see my enthusiasm to sit next to him-which also makes me sad because kindness shouldn’t be uncommon. I greeted him with a warm “hello” as I moved in to my seat. He nodded as he shifted uncomfortably trying to make himself smaller again. I started casually chatting with him. He visible became more at ease when he realized that I had absolutely no problem being a little squished next to him. Sadly, larger people on airplanes are often treated poorly by other passengers and sometimes flight crews. I was so happy that this man would not feel any worse today.
My new friend’s name is Chris. He had some interesting stories about the produce company that he works for. You know, I could talk about lettuce and spinach all day long so I was intrigued. As Chris became more comfortable talking with me he shared some of his personal struggles that lead to him gaining about 160 pounds in two years at just 28 years old. He had recently started to exercise and stopped drinking a 6 pack a day to lose nearly 50 pounds! Chris called it “just 50 pounds”. I said “Omigosh! Good for you! You must feel so much better.” He downplayed his success by saying wistfully “I used to be in great shape”…. I could sense a little pity party starting so I had to cut him off and get real with my new friend. “Whoa” I said. “This isn’t where your story ends! You can be exactly who you want to be. Your body right now is just your current situation. We change everyday. You just need to make the choice to evolve in a way that makes you happy”.
I asked Chris what happened to change his health if he used to love exercising and eating healthy. He took a minute to articulate his struggle. He had been overloaded with work duties by a boss he despised. His long time girlfriend was cheating on him. He hated his boss, his job, everything about his life at one point. So Chris decided to say “fuck everyone”. He now didn’t care about anything. But he was really giving the biggest F-U to himself. Buffets, lots of beer and laziness put the weight on fast. Soon he didn’t recognize himself. I get upset when I hear people say “I would NEVER let myself go like that” or “how did he get SO BIG”! Umm, personal struggles are unique and complicated and very hard to decipher even when it’s happening to you. Remember that. We all suffer and struggle with issues differently. Patience and understanding is what we need to help each other get over our own shit. You could make someones day better. Or not. I always wish to be a muddafuckinnnng rey of sunshine for someone else! Try it. It feels amazing to build up strangers as well as those you love.
We agreed that simply not allowing negative energy in to his space would help him prioritize his own health. To me that means letting go of relationships with people who make you feel low. I offered some easy suggestions with packing food and fitting in exercise no matter how much his workload is currently. Chris seemed determined to stick with his healthier routine. It felt as if our conversation sparked his motivation. I felt like we were meant to meet. I think Chris really needed a boost at that time. I really needed to hear a different perspective from someone who’s current struggles are different from own. Just the possibility that he may remember me when he reaches his fitness goal and fastens his seatbelt without asking for an extension makes me feel good. It’s so easy to miss a human connection if you’re face down in your phone. I encourage you to unplug and make friends. You may have the chance to make someones current situation even better.
*Please share your stories with me. firstname.lastname@example.org