A Common Thread
"Helping strangers lift their carry-ons into the overhead compartments, the fumbling for passports, security lines with shoeless and beltless crowds- it’s all painfully human." -Anonymous
On every safety demonstration video on every flight- regardless of the airline- the words “please remember to put on your oxygen mask first, before helping someone else,” are repeated. Often these words (and the rest of the demonstration safety instructions) are overlooked or tuned out by most of the flight's passengers. So, if you have never noticed the significance or felt the impact from these words in particular, I hope you will after reading this.
They say “please remember to put on your oxygen mask before helping someone else,” because people are designed to instinctively care for another human being in times of despair and suffering. It is not just that we need to be reminded to put on the mask, but that we need to be reminded to put ours on before we help someone else with theirs. Because if given the horrific scenario of needing to apply this rule, the majority of individuals on a flight would help the stranger sitting beside them before they would help themselves. We would instinctively act in an urgent situation by aiding the individuals next to us (known or unknown) before being cognizant of or present to our own suffering.
Each time I hear this, my faith in humanity is restored because it is proof that humanity is inherently good. That the human spirit is programmed to have compassion for another human being regardless of any outwardly notions that they are different in any way. How wonderful is it that we must be reminded not to help someone because naturally, we are selflessly born to. A flight filled with people of many unique stories, will ultimately share in the same truth. A truth that reveals hope because of the deepest commonality amongst us all- empathy. No matter how different we may seem, we will always be more alike than unalike because empathy exists in every one of us at some depth of our being.
"...it is proof that humanity is inherently good."
If I could give you a list of all the places I can think of that spark my curiosity and a desire for more than what can be felt in this life it would sound a little like this: a screened-in porch when it rains, a field in the middle of nowhere where the stars look like tiny holes in the floor of heaven, friends perched at the top of a roof when the sun melts into the horizon, a city street at 3am when the traffic lights wink like they’re flirting, and an airport full of complete strangers. There is something so fascinating and so beautiful about each one of those places. Places where time seems to slow down while the rest of the world is in fast forward. Time to think, time to breathe, time to be. Time that warps the true sense of reality into an eventual silence.
I have always loved airports ever since I was little. Mostly because I liked the idea of having hundreds of thousands of people in one spot for just a moment. People of different backgrounds, experiences, values, beliefs, ethnicities, religions, social and economic statuses, and so on. The one place where the insides can only be accurately classified by two words: people and luggage. A place where the only labels found are the ones on your bags. Sitting there in awe for the strangers around you who’s paths have crossed yours for just an instant. So many stories to be told, lessons that have been learned, hardships that have been overcome, mistakes that have been made, futures that will be written the moment they step onto their plane. A place filled with so much diversity that there is little room for dispute or hate.
And you see the thing is- you will probably never see any of these people again. But how beautiful is it to think that somehow, in the chaos of your unique and seemingly mutually exclusive lives, your paths have led you to the same destination. Isn't it so humbling to realize how small your life is in comparison to the entirety of the world? That there are billions of people who you have not yet met and likewise, have not met you. And even more than that, how beautiful and eye-opening is it to recognize that these are the same people who would help you with your oxygen mask before their own. Not because they know you, but because they were born from a spirit that does.
"...in the chaos of your uniquely and seemingly mutually exclusive lives, your paths have led you to the same destination."
This world is a massive place and we only occupy a small corner of it- so treat it like an airport and love each corner for what it is. Empathize with the strangers beside you and they will do the same. That is how we get along. That is the common thread.
PS. Shoutout to Brooks (Georgia) and Freddy (New Zealand) for making the middle seat of a fifteen hour flight better than I could have hoped for. You're both great and I'm so happy our paths crossed.