Long ago (1988) I moved to Berkeley and started sending a monthly "newsletter" to my Boston friends. When I returned to Boston (1993), I continued the tradition for about five more years (or until I had kids). Looking back, I realize that I was actually blogging. Each newsletter contained anywhere from a few to several blog posts. Having been silent for the past decade or so, I've decided to resume these activities. Don't expect anything profound -- I tend to focus on what I find entertaining or amusing and perhaps sometimes informative. We shall see!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

On Kindness

I'm not usually particularly sappy, but every once in awhile, I reserve the right to do so.
This week, an open letter to a kind and generous traveler went viral. (If you didn't read it, it's worth a read; if you don't have time, the reader's digest story is, "Mother traveling with autistic daughter gets a seat companion who, rather than being annoyed by child, engages with child and helps to entertain her during plane flight.") Anyway, it reminded me of a plane trip many, many years ago.
I was headed to California with two kids, roughly ages 3 and 5. They were pretty seasoned travelers at the time, because they did most of my business travel with me. I had enough frequent flyer miles that I always tried to upgrade us. On this particular flight, we had been upgraded, which meant that seating was two seats on each side of the aisle. I sat next to my 3-year-old daughter and across the aisle from my 5-year-old son. We were on the 5:00 Boston to SFO flight, which meant that with high probability, the person next to my son would be a tired business man looking for a relaxing flight home. And that's what I thought happened when a well-dressed man sat next to my son. But like Daddy in seat 16c, this traveler was not too tired to be kind. He helped my son with his meal tray, was gracious regardless of what was happening, chatted with him, and in a moment that made my heart melt, gently placed a blanket over him when he curled up to go to sleep.
Like the Mom in 16a I was enormously grateful. As we left the plane, I expressed my gratitude and handed the man a business card telling him that if he were ever back in Boston, I owed him a drink. In the "it's a small world" department, it turned out that he had actually heard of the tiny company my husband and I ran, because we traveled in the same technology sector.
Needless to say, the open letter reminded me of this trip, so I went out on a limb and dropped an email. And, in keeping completely in character from so many years ago, I received an almost immediately reply. The exchange made my day, so I am sharing it here:

Many years ago, perhaps 11, we were on a flight together from
Boston to San Francisco and you were the "lucky"  person who
ended up sharing a row with my 5-year-old son in business class.
You were kind and gracious and I have always been grateful.  I 
was reminded of that by a story that went viral today on HuffPost.

Perhaps my experience was less dramatic, as my son didn't 
have the same challenges as the young lady in the article, 
but my reaction and the gratitude was pretty much spot on.

So I thought I'd just drop a note today to say hello and 
wish you a happy New Year.

- Margo
And the reply:

Wow - great and unexpected surprise.

For some reason I've never been quite certain about, that flight and
the time spent with your son has always remained in my mind like it
was last week. Your son is a great person!

It's great you remember and I hope you and yours are all well in 
this new year.

All the best,
A couple of things -- I always try to respect people's privacy, so I have left this kind man anonymous (although I may drop him a note and ask if he'd like to be identified). But what should we take away from such stories? I guess I take away two things:
  1. I had a college roommate who always said, "When you think highly of someone, they shouldn't be the last to know." This has always struck me as sage advice, and I try very hard to live it. When I find myself raving about person X to person Y, I try very hard to go back and make sure person X knows how highly I think of him/her. It's actually somewhat uncommon to simply tell people you respect them, admire something they did, think the world of them, etc, but you know what, it's a really good thing to do.
  2. Kindness often doesn't cost anything and is frequently pretty simple. It just requires an ability to look outside oneself. Again, it's another thing worth doing.