This story did not occur around the holidays, but it may as well be a Christmas morality tale. It is a reminder to be kind, because your kindness will last longer than you know, far beyond those few moments you invest in showing compassion for others.
A young couple waited in the airport terminal with their two-month-old son. It was an evening flight, and their baby was fussy. The tall, very lean father with a newly cultivated mustache spoke calming words to his wife as she bounced their child in her arms and made shushing noises, her long hair swaying and occasionally getting caught in the baby's fist. The babe was tired and wanted a nurse, but they would board at any moment and the new mother was uncomfortable with nursing in public. She hoped to nurse him beneath his blanket as the plane took off, helping to pop his ears during the pressure changes.
Around the young couple were gathered other travelers, mostly business men and women with compact luggage on wheels. These professional people were antsy in their own way, anxious to get home or on to the next place of business, looking at e-mails and schedules on their phones. The young couple with their colicky baby was out of place, and the noise of the child was making other passengers fidget in a new way - increasing impatience to get on the plane to their assigned seats, fervently hoping they would not be the unlucky ones seated next to the family.
A stocky man with sleek gray hair and an immaculate white dress shirt took particular notice of the infant as he paced with his jacket thrown across his shoulders. Every new wail or whimper from the babe brought a fresh look of irritation. The mother noted the man looking at her child with distaste, but she was truly embarrassed when her son's cries increased, and the stocky man gave a loud grunt of disgust, threw a last dirty look and moved to the opposite side of the terminal.
What did he expect her to do? Her son was just a little baby.
It was a relief when boarding began, and the young couple could find their seats. The mother wanted to nurse her son immediately, and her husband wanted her to have the window seat. When they got to their row, however, there was already a dark-haired young man in slacks and a leather jacket reclining in his rightful seat by the window, head back and eyes closed as he adjusted for best comfort.
"Excuse me," said the husband, "but do you mind if my wife sits there? She needs to nurse our baby, and it's more private."
The young man's eyes flew open. "Oh, sure. Of course."
He edged out, and the mother slid all the way in and began to adjust the blanket over her and her son. Her baby badly wanted a nurse but had become so frustrated that he wasn't latching on properly. Her husband bent over them to offer more protection from curious gazes as the child kicked and fussed beneath the blanket. The mother was near tears as she tried to pacify her child. The father felt he needed to say something to this man who had forfeited his seat only to be accosted by an infant's shrill wails.
"I'm sorry," he said. "This is our first time flying with him. Hopefully, we'll get him calmed down soon. I know this isn't pleasant for you."
The gentleman shifted in his seat. "Listen," he said, turning his kind, handsome face toward the couple. "If that's the most I have to worry about in life, I'm good."
The husband smiled a million-watt smile. "Well, thank you,"
Gratitude did not tumble from the mother's lips, shocked as she was by this response after the other man's stark unkindness, but it expanded her heart. Her stress fell. The baby felt his mother relax, and he too calmed down presently and settled into his nurse. He slept at last as the plane navigated the black sky.
The couple had three more children. The mother would experience many more displays of irritation or kindness from strangers, often in the same 10 minutes, while out with her children in stores, airports, or at school. There would always be those who tightened their lips, lifted their noses and gave a wide berth as she passed with her rambunctious brood, but others would come with a smile, a wistful look of "I remember those days", and easy conversation to distract the toddler from crying about candy or the older ones from sword-fighting with wrapping paper.
The woman and her husband often recalled that early sympathy and understanding from an unlikely source on an evening flight many years before, and to their fellow parents they told the tale of a young businessman who gave up his seat by the window and put things in pitch-perfect perspective on a stressful day.