A few weeks ago I had an 11-hour flight ahead of me. That’s not just a lot of time sitting and watching TV, it’s also a long time to be sitting really close to another person who is not your family. I don’t even stay that close to my husband for 11 hours, and he is pretty much contractually bound to do so!

To minimize my time in the plane, I made a conscious effort to be one of the last people boarding. As the other hundreds (yes, those cross-oceanic planes are huge) of my co-passengers elbowed each other in attempts to navigate the airline’s intricate group and boarding-order system, I sat back and chillaxed, and enjoyed the reality show that was the pushing and shoving of who-gets-to-be-the-first-on-the-plane, as if they were going to get someplace faster by doing so.

I finally strolled to my seat, completely free of the adrenaline boost that most others had had during the boarding. And I was planning to keep it zen. Or so I thought.

The moment I sat down on my carefully pre-selected window seat, I still got elbowed – by the middle-aged man who had had the worst of luck getting the … oh no … middle seat!

What was his deal? Here’s my guess.

You see, my belated arrival at my seat had made him expect that that seat was going to stay empty. Therefore, I had single-handedly killed his dream by showing up. And no one likes a dream killer.

For 11 hours, he invaded my chair-space, rolled his eyes, sighed excessively, snored on me, sneezed on me and, I swear, he even farted in my direction, and in general, showed with every iota of his being how disturbed he was by my presence in that seat.

Annoying?

Sure. And 5 years ago, I would have been irritated, huffing and puffing, and I might have even complained. But not this time. The best word to describe what I felt was ‘curious.’

Curious as for the duration of the flight, this man granted me his greatest power – the power to decide how he felt. It is the only true power we have at any given moment – the power to decide how we react or act. And he gave it away.

As I said, I’ve been that man; that person who is generally annoyed by the close proximity of strangers.

Like in an empty bus at 11:40 pm, when at the next stop someone comes and sits right next to you even though there are all these empty seats available. Seriously. You couldn’t sit at any other seat?

 Or when you stand in line at the grocery store and the person behind you stands so close to you that you cannot just hear him breathe but feel him breathe. Seriously. Stop living on my back!

Or when you deliberately go to the movies on a Monday morning so there would be no crowds. And you were right, it’s just you … until that one other person comes in and sits right in front of you. Seriously?!?!!

The old me would huff and puff, possibly get up in a very demonstrative manner, and would definitely be irritated for hours after.

But not on that flight. And here’s why. My spiritual mentor shared these words of wisdom with me about 5 years ago, and they melted onto my heart like marshmallow onto a stick.

The reason why random people come close to you is 2-fold.

  • First, to teach you a lesson of learning to be the master of your feelings. They are giving you a gift.
  • And second, more importantly, because they feel safe around you. Because what’s good in you attracts and they want to dwell in your shine. You are giving them a gift.

I may not always remember these words of wisdom when I stand in line or ride a bus. But I did remember them for that flight.

For 11 hours I watched movies, made several attempts at sleeping in the shape of a pretzel, and dealt with indigestion from a salty soggy noodle dish. What I didn’t do was get all prissy about another soul connecting with me through his elbow.