The white box with its taped lid looks like an ordinary box. It looks like the kind of box in which you move office files. Nothing special about it. I don’t notice it until the airline representative tells the passenger he can’t take such a large rectangular-shaped box onto the airplane. It won’t fit into the overhead compartment.
Makes sense. The gentleman (I use that term loosely) carrying the box doesn’t agree. The woman’s words send him into a fit of rage I’ve never seen displayed by a person in a public place before.
Because I’m sitting in a wheelchair near the entrance to the skyway, I have a front row seat to the drama about to unfold. The airline representative calmly tells the man his box has to fit in the container used to measure luggage located near the door that leads to the plane—and a few feet from me—or he can’t take it on the airplane.
His flight is boarding. Time is of the essence. “It has to go with me,” he argues. “It has to.”
“It has to fit or it can’t go.”
The writer in me immediately wants to know what’s in the box. What’s so important that it can’t be checked with ordinary luggage? Is it the only copy of an extremely rare manuscript from the seventeenth century? Ten years of research that will earn him a Nobel prize for finding a cure to cancer? A valuable treasure of some kind? An urn containing the ashes of a beloved wife?
The man strides to the luggage measurement container and shoves the box into with all the force he can muster. He makes it fit. There goes my theory involving anything fragile.
He marches back. “It fits.”
“Sir, you can’t force it. It has to fit.”
“Give me a knife and I’ll cut it open and rearrange.”
“Sir, we don’t have knives here. If you don’t calm down, we’re going to have a problem.”
“Open it and I’ll fix it.”
I’m a few feet away and I want her to call security. I would have called them already. I understand the concept of customer service. I also know we’re in an airport and a man is having a meltdown over a cardboard box.
My mind flashes to all the airport scenes I’ve seen on the six o’clock news recently. Call security.
She doesn’t. She finds something to cut the tape. The man opens the box.
Yep. A series of large, beige binders. No valuable jewels. No treasure. Nothing spectacular. He stuffs a few of them in his overnight bag. He slams the lid shut. He slams the box on the counter and re-tapes the lid. He races toward the luggage measurement container, trips over my chair, keeps going without looking back.
He slams the box into the container with so much force, it’s a wonder it didn’t tear. “It fits.”
The airline representative allows him to board the plane. I can only imagine what is going through her mind. Kudos to her for keeping her cool and diffusing the situation. Whatever they pay her, it’s not enough.
I’m thankful I’m on the next flight out, not this man’s. But a hundred or more passengers do share that flight with this man. I have a long layover so I have plenty of time to puzzle over his behavior. What makes a grown man act like that? It’s easy to judge. I’d never act that way, I tell myself. And it’s true, I wouldn’t put on a physical display, but there have been plenty of instances during my health trials, in which I have been ashamed of my inability to be gracious with my healthcare providers. I’m frustrated, angry, scared, confused, and sad over what has happened to my body. The nurses and doctors want to help, but they can only do so much. The healthcare system is overburdened so the waits are long and often times, the answers are few or not the answers I want.
But that’s never an excuse for being rude or surly. It’s not my place to criticize the man for the toothpick in his eye when I have a big old plank in mine. Walking a mile in the other person’s shoes would help in so many of the situations we face in our country and our world today. Less judgement, more empathy. Less righteousness, more compassion.
I don’t know what terrible stress assailed that man on that day and I hope I never run into him in an airport again, but I also hope someone offers him a kind word. I hope a friend takes him aside and suggests he lay off the caffeine and get a good night’s sleep or take a long vacation on a beach somewhere. He needs it. We all do.
And the writer in me still wants to know what was in those binders. They could very well show up in one of my books someday. Count on it!
Have you ever witnessed a scene in public that left your mind boggled? What did you do? What would you have done in the airline representative’s shoes? Feel free to share in the comments!