Finally, I decide that someone has to say something to him.

It’s after midnight. The plane spits us out at Birmingham-Shuttlesworth Airport and we trot across the empty building. We stand before baggage claim with a bunch of weary passengers, staring at the large Roulette Wheel of Luggage with tired looks on our faces.

But the baggage treadmill hasn’t started moving yet. We are gathered around it, waiting, but it’s been thirty minutes.

There is a man next to me who is wearing a business suit that looks like it cost more than a three-bedroom-two-bath in Mountain Brook, and he is clearly ticked off.

“$%*#!” he says.

Over and over again.

He looks like the kind of guy who, whenever he doesn’t get what he wants, always asks to speak to the manager. You know the kind I’m talking about. You can’t take these people anywhere.

“$%*#!” he says again.

I’ll bet this guy was no day at the beach when he was a kid, either. I’ll bet when his childhood friends were busy playing cowboys and Indians, he was dressing up as Ted Turner and firing the butler.

My friend Darren used to be like that. Before he would come over to play, we all had to participate in group meditation just to prepare for him. Because we knew how things would go:

We would all want to play Lone Ranger, but Darren would want to play “accounting firm,” which was a make-believe game wherein we would pretend to be H&R Block professionals doing tax returns in cubicles. Darren would play the role of boss, patrolling the cubicles and shouting, “Come on people! Time is money! Chop! Chop!”

And eventually we’d tie Darren to a tree and scalp him.

So this guy is a lot like Darren. He’s pacing around, getting angrier by the second. He removes his watch and shakes it.

“$%*#!” he says again.

He sits on a chair and starts making loud sighs. People are looking at him. At this point, we aren’t nearly as concerned with our bags as we are with him. He’s adding anxiety to the entire zip code.

Several of us look at each other with the kinds of faces that passengers probably wore on the Titanic, just before it sunk, and someone’s irate mother-in-law was asking to speak to the manager about this.

We’re looking at each other with looks that both say, “Can you believe this guy?” and “Do you know how to scalp a man using only a pair of TSA-approved nail clippers?”

But nobody says anything to the man because what would we say? After all, our words would only make him worse.

Soon he is pacing. Whenever he sees an airport employee, he approaches them and starts using wild hand gestures. “$%*#!” he shouts. But the airport employees keep apologizing.

“$%*#!” he answers.

One lady beside me says, “This is why I hate airplanes, you never know what kinda nut you’re gonna get stuck with.”

I, too, hate flying in airplanes. Though my last two flights today haven’t been so bad. I sat next to a kid who played a video game on his on his cellular phone for two hours.

With the volume all the way up.

Then, on my flight out of Atlanta, my passenger-mate was a man with no arm-rest etiquette, chronic body odor, and a runny nose. A man who, partway through the flight, disclosed to me that he recently got over a strain of walking pneumonia that doctors had never seen before. He kept asking if I wanted a cough drop.

“$%*#!” the guy says again.

Finally, I decide that someone has to say something to the unhappy man. I don’t often do this sort of thing, but he’s yelling at an airport employee, an innocent young woman. And I cannot watch this. I take a few breaths and stride over to the man. But I am too late.

Someone else has beaten me to it.

An elderly woman. Small. Very skinny. She is wearing a surgical mask. She steps right up to him. She removes her mask. She says, “Do you know that you remind me of my son? You look just like him. So handsome.”

This man is taken off guard. He is dumbfounded, actually. He can’t think of anything to say.

Soon, he forgets all about the airline employee he just beheaded. In a few minutes, he’s talking to Gram Gram who doesn’t even give him a chance to answer her, she just keeps talking in that pleasant voice. And he keeps listening. After a few minutes, she has actually calmed this man down. He is even smiling.

Then.

The sound of machinery. The huge Wheel of Fortune awakens. Our luggage is starting to appear on the conveyor belt. People applaud. But the man in the suit is too busy talking to the old woman to even notice his baggage.

After everyone gets their bags, the old woman tells this young man to fetch her luggage from the belt. And if I am not mistaken—get a load of this—Granny even tells the man to help her CARRY HER LUGGAGE TO HER CAR.

And I can’t help but think to myself that, in this world of angry people who shout too loud, who point too many condemning fingers, who yell at managers, and complain about circumstances they can’t control, we could use a few more Grannies.

And since I brought it up, I’m sorry we scalped you, Darren.

Sort of.

19 comments

  1. jstephenw - November 2, 2019 5:50 am

    For one of the first times, you surprised me. No tears. Great piece. You are right. We can get a lot more accomplished with this approach. I fly a ton, and sometimes, I will tell you and Jamie a great story over a beer about the greatest lesson I ever learned about airline travel in 1986 in the Salt Lake City airport. Until then, thanks for a great lesson.

    Reply
  2. Steve - November 2, 2019 7:37 am

    I was going to comment about how I’ve flown over 700 times. I was a business consultant for years and flew every Monday morning and flew home every Friday night. Late night. But I won’t. Even though I just did. Because this wasn’t about the horrors of airline travel. It’s about the power of kindness. Kindness – something most of us aren’t very good at. You have to make a purposeful commitment to it everyday to everyone. I started that three years ago when I was diagnosed with terminal cancer. I hate that it took me 50 years and cancer to learn the power of kindness. The more you exude it, the more it comes back to you. Three times over. Just be kind to one another, it work’s like magic. And it’s beautiful, don’t take my word for it – just ask Granny. She knows.

    Reply
  3. Meredith Smith - November 2, 2019 9:16 am

    Sean you sure have this world figured out. And that’s all I have to say about that. 😉

    Reply
  4. Naomi - November 2, 2019 12:36 pm

    Of all the things you wrote about this morning, it applies to my husband. He is an accountant. Before I could drink a cup of coffee this morning and open my eyes, he was telling me what I should do with the RMD that I take out of my IRA in December. I can’t even figure out what to do with my coffee. I’m not talking to him right now.

    Reply
  5. Sharon - November 2, 2019 2:01 pm

    Since I am a Granny, I loved this story. But unlike that lady, I am very much afraid I wouldn’t have been as classy as she. I have no patience for jerks. Did the nimrod actually carry her luggage?

    Reply
  6. Donald R Snyder - November 2, 2019 2:37 pm

    ❤👍

    Reply
  7. Crysti Porter - November 2, 2019 3:11 pm

    Sean, ESPECIALLY as the wife of an airline employee (he’s going on his 40th year!!) thank you for this reminder for all of us to be “controlled and compelled by love”! It takes courage and vulnerability — and it’s always worth the risk!

    Reply
  8. bill boswell - November 2, 2019 3:36 pm

    Your post today is needed and welcome by me!

    Reply
  9. Linda Moon - November 2, 2019 4:12 pm

    This Granny (me) loves to listen and talk and smile. Depending on circumstances, however, talking might need to come first…then listening and hopefully smiling in the end. Not long ago, I worked on a movie set about the real Lone Ranger: Bass Reeves. Granny at the Airport listened to the profane, angry man. And, just like Bass Reeves (THE ACTUAL REAL LONE RANGER) she won without taking a scalp!!

    Reply
  10. janeseigel - November 2, 2019 4:18 pm

    Brilliant!

    Reply
  11. Veronica Parker - November 2, 2019 6:25 pm

    This made me smile.

    Reply
  12. Shelton A. - November 2, 2019 7:27 pm

    I used to be that person…not anymore. Circumstances forced to realize I was not at the center of things. Reality crashed in and after some adjustment, I was a whole lot more relaxed and concerned others first. Sometimes, in the car alone, I revert but it only takes a few moments to realize I’m just me and that’s enough.

    Reply
  13. Martha Black - November 2, 2019 7:35 pm

    Well granny just soothed the “beast of burden” down with calm words and allowed him to serve in his better behavior. It’s a great thing to witness……. Granny, the donkey whisperer…..

    Reply
  14. Martha - November 2, 2019 7:40 pm

    Well Granny just soothed him allowing him to serve as the “beast of burden” he was but in his better nature. It’s a rare and wonderful thing to witness. Granny, the donkey whisperer!

    Reply
  15. Ann - November 2, 2019 8:19 pm

    This is beautiful and priceless…we DO need more peaceful people…young and old…
    And I would rather drive too!!

    Reply
  16. Melanie - November 2, 2019 9:09 pm

    Because you never know what the other person is going through.

    Reply
  17. Akkie Bardoel - November 3, 2019 12:30 am

    Thank you. Granny Gamechanger.

    Reply
  18. Edna B. - November 3, 2019 1:28 pm

    What a wonderful little old granny. I’m a granny too, but I wouldn’t have been as nice as she was. I have no patience for jerks. But I enjoyed the story. You have a wonderful day, hugs, Edna B.

    Reply
  19. Dawn Bratcher - November 5, 2019 10:47 pm

    Wonderful! She probably was a kindergarten teacher, too! 💖😉

    Reply

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