On a recent cross-country flight, I watched with compassion and awe as a mother sitting across the aisle from me tended to her adolescent son with cerebral palsy. Flying is stressful enough these days without adding the challenges of a wheelchair, diapers, and special feeding devices. As I watched this woman handle a litany of difficult situations with grace, love, and patience, I felt so much respect for her. Every once in a while, our eyes would meet, and I wondered how I must appear to her — a carefree stranger sipping Chardonnay while enjoying a juicy novel. I felt myself wanting to 'correct' this seemingly 'perfect' snapshot, as if adding a disclaimer would somehow bring her comfort. In my mind, I was saying, 'Wait. It's not as it seems! I, too, am the mother of a child with profound special needs. Despite appearances, I'm in your club! You're not alone.'
I began thinking about all the other 'clubs' represented by the hundreds of other passengers. Undoubtedly there were members of the Divorce club, the Widows, those going through Bankruptcy, Cancer, Recovery . . . While this woman's 'membership' was outwardly visible, what about the well-coiffed woman with designer boots and smug attitude sitting next to me? She could have just been diagnosed with ovarian cancer for all that I knew. Rather than judge her as a boorish snob, I decided to cut her some slack.
This holiday season, many of us will be rubbing shoulders with more people than usual. Many of these people will look as if they’re having the time of their lives, and some will be, but before we're so quick with our snapshot judgments, we may want to remember that we all travel with some baggage. Not everybody travels through life with carry-on in plain sight; some people’s luggage is stored deeper in cargo than others. With this in mind, perhaps we'll look at people with greater compassion and patience, while reminding ourselves that we may not be as alone as we think.