The alarm went off at 4:45 am. I got out of bed, took a quick shower and got my things together to catch my 5:45 flight home. Fortunately, my hotel was right by the airport so I would be there in plenty of time.
The night before I had gone online and saw that the flight wasn’t very full. I changed seats to be in the bulkhead because all six seats were open. Yes! I’d be able to put up the armrests, put my ipod on and sleep until I got to Chicago undisturbed.
It was about 5:20 as they began boarding the plane. I am always one of the last ones to board because planes are very uncomfortable and I wait as long as I can to get on. Then I heard them.
There were five of them. Mohawks on three of them. leather jackets, piercings and chains everywhere that I could see. One appeared to be in some state of inebriation as he was being helped by two others down the hallway. They immediately got in line and boarded the plane.
As they made the final boarding call I said to myself, “Lord, please don’t let me be by any of those guys!”
I strolled through first class in my usual slumped over position since I can’t stand up in most planes. As I glanced to my right as I approached the bulkhead I could see one of the mohawks, a red one, was sitting in the middle seat in MY row. I had the window seat and he was in the middle with no one in the aisle or across the aisle. WHAT WERE THEY THINKING? How could they put him in the middle seat right next to me. Didn’t they know I was going to stretch out and sleep and that I didn’t want to sit next to someone LIKE THIS!?
I’m not sure why I didn’t just sit in the empty row across the aisle but I dutifully told him I’ve got the window seat. He graciously stood up and let me in and sat down right next to me again. C’mon, man! At least sit in the aisle seat!! Fortunately, the rest of THEM were much further back in the plane.
As I sat down I quickly pulled out my ipod and earbuds hoping he would take the hint. He reached out his hand and said, “I’m Frederic.” I extended my hand and wondered what I might be catching as I said, “I’m Dave.”
He asked where I was headed and what I did for a living, all the general conversation you make with anyone you sit next to on the plane. I realized quickly that he was not in any sort of altered state and I asked where he was headed.
He and his alternative rock band were on their way for their fourth tour of China. I can’t even remember the name of the band but they aren’t known outside of their local area in the US but are a pretty big deal in China and even Frederic didn’t know how that happened.
I asked him if he did this full time. His answer was just a bit of a shock. Turns out mister punk rock mohawk, screw the establishment, sex, drugs and rock and roll is a MARRIAGE AND FAMILY THERAPIST finishing up his doctoral work! He also heads up the worship band in his church. Color me judgmentally embarrassed!
I never did listen to my ipod on that two-hour flight to Chicago. I just talked with Frederic and enjoyed great conversation while I ate some crow.
I’m still not great at this but I know I have more courage to engage with those who might be different than me because of meeting Frederic.
How about you? Do you shy away from people because of how they look or act? What lessons have you learned from engaging with someone outside of your comfort box?
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Have a STRONG and COURAGEOUS day!
This post originally ran on June 12, 2014. It was good for me to read it again and I hope it is for you as well!