From Hate to Hugs

After visiting Heather’s family on Thanksgiving, I left Heather and our children there and flew back to Tampa by myself. Everything was going fine until the woman next to me called the flight attendant.

“He is too big, and he’s in my space! I’m uncomfortable and getting anxiety. You need to get him another seat. I can’t fly the whole trip like this! This is horrible. He’s leaning on me. I can’t handle this! You need to fix this now!”

The flight attendant was apologetic, and said she would do what she could.

While the woman, named Martha I found out later, was speaking, my mind was racing.

“Wow. she hasn’t said a word to me the 30 minutes we’ve been in the air, and she just went straight to the flight attendant with…all THAT.  Are they going to move me to another seat for being too big? Oh man, how embarrassing! Why didn’t she just ask me to move over? Well, let’s see, (praying) ‘God, please help me find a way to glorify you in this situation.'”

I was mortified! I was on the aisle seat, so I was indeed moving toward her middle every time the flight attendants came through.  My mind was racing. What could I say to help the situation? I tried not to think about myself, and any awkward thoughts about being “too big” or about my potential move, and I tried to put myself in her shoes.

What was she going through? Is there something going on in her life prompting her to talk about me like I’m not there? How can I bring joy to her life and at the same time let her know that I am a safe person she can talk to?

After the flight attendant left, I apologized profusely.

“I am so sorry. I didn’t realize I was getting in your space.”

“Well, you’re too big! They should have sold you two seats!” (We were flying Southwest, where there are no assigned seats.)

I gulped with shame as she basically yelled to the plane that some big, fat guy was making her miserable. But then I felt God picking my spirit back up in answer to my prayer.

I continued to apologize, and tell her how horrible I felt for making her uncomfortable.

Then, she let something slip through her lips that let me know I was making progress.

In the midst of her expressing her anger toward me, she said, “Well, I can tell you’re a nice person.”

Once she said that, I knew I had her. I knew I was making progress by trying to convey my love for her.

Meanwhile, I’m still a bit anxious about the flight attendant coming to move me to another seat because I’m “too big.” It was a full flight, minus maybe two or three seats, by the way.

But eventually, she started talking to me. Then she started conversing with me.

I learned that she has always had anxiety flying. Her husband, who died four years ago, always made her feel comfortable, and would always be her buffer on the plane, giving her the seat next to the window while he would take the middle or aisle seat.

This time, her daughter was with her on the window.

She and I actually started hitting it off. We learned that her family, and her husband’s family, are both recent immigrants from a country that one of my grandfathers came to America from. And the familial affinity within people from this country is strong.

Her daughter apologized to me several times, and Martha actually said she felt bad that the one time she spoke up about her plane anxiety, that it was regarding someone who was nice.

I told her, “Maybe all the other people were nice as well, and you never gave them the opportunity to show it because you never said anything to them. If you had told me I was in your space, I would have made space for you instantly.”

Meanwhile, the flight attendant came back and offered Martha a different seat. She declined.

She kept telling me how nice I was. I listened to her the rest of the flight. She talked about her family, her husband and what a gentleman he was. And her family has quite a historic presence in Tampa.

We hit it off so well, that she gave me her full name, number, and address, and said she wanted to take Heather and me out to dinner! And then, guess what else?

She hugged me. Yes, we hugged on the plane. In front of all the people who heard her curse me to the flight attendant, we gave each other a heart-melting hug.

Why am I sharing this with you?

To prove that love always wins.

And to top it off, by showing Martha love, I actually started feeling love for her!

This was a success story for love. Sometimes love stories don’t always end this well. But that doesn’t take away from the power of love.

Love always wins.