Friday, September 12, 2008

Boring seatmates and Flight 93

I’m vowing to stop casting such a critical eye on my fellow passengers as they board the plane. It’s something I’ve been doing it since way back before they started charging for things like peanuts and soda.

They’d enter the cabin and I’d make my snap judgments about every potential seatmate.

“Navy blue jacket looks like a bore. Rastafarrian probably smells like bong water. Don’t want Red Sox cap next to me. Tubby there looks like he could snore through an hour of violent turbulence.”

What I really wanted was a vacant row. I didn’t want anybody next to me. But if someone must -- and in these days of overbooked flights they must -- I wanted the perfect seatmate. She didn’t have to be pretty, but she should be attentive if and when I deemed it time to talk. I wanted her to sit there and laugh at my witty anecdotes, nod thoughtfully at my profound observations and tell me how refreshing it is to sit next to someone who’s rose-smelling sweet even at 7 a.m.

No more.

I’m not going to look and think knee-jerk derogatory thoughts about my fellow passengers.

I’m going to try and look at them all as potential American heroes.

I spent the past two days at Shanksville writing stories for Parks Magazine about the crew and passengers of Flight 93.

Everyone’s familiar with the story of how 40 perfect strangers became perfect heroes in the skies near my western Pennsylvania home. Ranging in age from 79 to 20, you couldn’t have picked a better random sampling of Americans.

There were jocks, Mexicans, gays, businessmen, veterans, Jews, toymakers, tourists, students and bureaucrats. None of them wanted to die that day, even if it meant being immortalized as heroes.

They were only human.

Flight 93 reminds us that still something to celebrate.

I’m going to try and remember that the next time I’m on a plane. I’m going to try and remember that inside of each of us are untapped reservoirs of heroism and courage and that I’ll welcome spending the next two hours with any stranger imbued with those selfless qualities.

And that goes for the obnoxious jerk in the Red Sox hat, too.

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