Missed Perception

Boston, flying to BostonOn one of my hold-my-breath-until-we-land flights a few months ago, I was the last passenger to enter the plane (my normal routine) and sat next to a nice-looking man who barely looked up.

But I looked him up and down, gauging how well the flight would go. Not garrulous, check. Not nervous, check. Not a drinker, check. All good to go. trees, New England, winter

But as I placed my purse under my seat and opened my book, I took offense. Perhaps this man – mid-30s – dismissed me already for being one of those things: a talker or a nervous flier or worse, just an “older woman” who was – dismissible. 

I shrugged my shoulders and sank into my book. Almost two hours into the flight, after I’d been reading without a stop and my seatmate had been clicking on his laptop nonstop (yup, harried businessman, I told myself), the flight attendant made an announcement that caused me to laugh out loud and the businessman laughed too and then…we looked at each other.

trees, New England, winterHas that happened to you before? You think you know someone from their outside appearance (old, young, teenager, academic, businessperson, clergy, European, African, mid-Western, male, female) and then suddenly, eyes focus on each other, and you think: ohhhhhhhh.

Our eyes clicked into recognition. Don’t ask me what we recognized, but we knew that we knew each other – the inside parts. We began to talk about where we’d just been (me: Atlanta, he: Brazil); where we were returning (both, Boston); what we’d been reading lately; why we liked to keep the plane’s window shade up the entire flight; our favorite country to visit; our favorite yoga position (me: upward dog, he: plow).

And then he opened his laptop and said, “I want to show you this Halloween ad. Some friends sent it to me in Facebook. Do you think it will ever be shown nationally?”

The ad shows a young brother and sister getting ready for Halloween. Their parents watch them run up and down the street, shouting “Trick or Treat!” Sister is dressed as Batman. Her brother? He’s Wonder Woman. Their parents hold hands, nod to each other, and support their children’s choice of costume. 

Tears ran down my cheeks as I came to the end of the ad, beautifully and lovingly created. My seatmate touched my hand and I peered up at him. His face was wet with tears also.

Soon after, the plane landed, but first, he “friended” me on Facebook, and I friended him back. We’ll probably never see each other again. But he knows that he has a friend in the universe – a middle-aged, married, non-garrulous, average, nervous-flier friend. And I have a friend in the universe: a smart, international businessman with a loving partner, a family who supports him, and a belief that the world is one step closer to accepting each of us the way we are.

Two days ago, my flying friend posted a Facebook message about his upcoming long trip to Asia. For fun, I commented: “Hope you get a wonderful seatmate for that long flight.”

He commented back immediately: “That would be a high bar to reach after you.”

winter colors, photography, winter sunrise


154 thoughts on “Missed Perception

  1. This is a wonderful story, and in particular I love the ending! The idiom “Don’t judge a book by its cover” holds very true.

    Being next to an interesting or kind person on a flight is a blessing indeed. Recently while taking a short flight within the U.S. the plane went upwards on one side in a sudden swoop. I let out a shriek. I am not a good flier and I do not do well with turbulence. So basically, I freaked out. The woman next to me, who until this moment I had not shared any conversation with, just a nod of the head a small smile when we took our seats.. reached out to hold my hand and in a strong Irish accent, she said “Don’t worry lassie it will be fine. It is just an air pocket!” And then once calm returned, we spent the rest of the fight chatting about our kids and her job and my life. In that little moment of panic, a stranger reached out and made a difference.


    • YOUR story just made my heart jump and twist. We humans insulate ourselves, I think, and most times, believe that we’re here, individually, by ourselves. But then the plane dips, or the earth moves in an earthquake, or a child gets hurt, or…. etc. Then, we reach out to strangers for a hand to be held, a tear to be wiped off, fear to be assuaged, and discover that we are ALL connected. That our cells intertwine into and within each other. ❤

  2. Hi Pamela,

    nice story. That is pure energy.We e have that ability to communicate through energy with other people, and I am sure that your energy vibrates with the same frequency. Thank you

    • I TOTALLY agree with you, Ben. Since we ARE pure energy, why wouldn’t we connect with “strangers” who seem to have nothing in common with us, until we realize, we have everything in common. ❤

  3. Pam, this is a great and wonderful story. I follow it all the way through. How beautiful to find a seat mate like that. You both felt for the same and shared the warmth. I really love how you ‘friended’ each other and the funny comments.
    Moments in life to treasure.

  4. This lovely story shows just how important it is to communicate with others. It’s often hard to break the ice and speak with a stranger but it can be worth it – real connections can be made.

  5. I just got teary reading your post, and then sealed the deal when I watched the ad. What an unexpected and meaningful connection you gained inflight. And you reinforced my belief that humor and laughter breaks down barriers between us, Pam.

  6. I have had many experiences like yours over the course of my life and cherish each person that opened their soul to me so that we could know each other better. You wrote beautifully about this experience.

    • So true, Jill. Connections are more difficult than ever with eyes focused on small phones or laptop screens instead of what’s right in front of them. I keep my phone deep inside my purse at all times!

    • Oh, you’re so funny. I think I let him do most of the talking – fascinating delightful man. We sealed the friendship deal when we both cried over a commercial. Jeez. But I love anyone who will cry during a movie or TV show or even a commercial with me. 🙂

  7. When I emigrated to Canada, I was in Toronto quite a lot seeing job agencies etc., and I was amazed at how indifferent everybody was (compared to my background in semi-rural UK). Polite greetings were offered, but it was sterile business and rarely friendly. I decided to set the example and, whenever I met somebody, I give them a very cheerful good morning accompanied by a big smile. It was miraculous! People responded in the same manner. It just took a change in circumstances… much like your flight! 🙂

    • I’ve found the same responses in NE. When I moved here from CA I was told everyone was cold and unfriendly. At first, it seemed so, because they didn’t greet me with a smile. But once I started greeting strangers with a smile, wham, the sunshine came out on their faces.
      However, if you walk around with that sweet dog of yours, I bet you get smiles even faster. 🙂

  8. This makes me think of a favourite quote by Will Rogers – “A stranger is just a friend you haven´t met yet.” You often meet the nicest people on flights and yes, I have made the mistake of prejudging a couple of times. I can´t tell you how many friends I have made on flights. One of my favourite things about flying. I have even sold a book or two to a seatmate! (Hubby can´t believe it.)

  9. What a wonderful story, Pamela! And you’re so right about misconceptions!
    The nicest person I met during a flight was sadly on a mere 1 hour trip 😉 She was a lovely lady that helped me through flight anxiety all the time and distracted me just perfectly with her wonderful chatter. 😄 The ad is fantastic!
    Have a beautiful weekend! ❤

    • Ohhh, I know about those kind of sweet spirits on airplanes. They are angels! On one of my first flights to Europe, I was a teenager and horribly airsick the entire long flight. An elderly man held my hand and held the airsick bag and put cool tissues on my forehead the entire flight. I will NEVER forget his kind spirit.

  10. This is a wonderful story Pamela. I love the ad and how it relates perfectly to your post and experience with your fellow traveler. May we look beyond appearances to find the beauty and humanity beneath.
    Hugs for all!

  11. This story is so much more touching than the ad … because this was real. This is my feel-good read for the day. It proves the lesson I’ve been learning my entire life … people are what matter, and making connection can make all the difference ❤️

  12. Awe! I have a tear in my eye. Today some Chapter NE sisters are reading poetry after our regular meeting and I am reading your Halloween poem. ❤️

  13. Pam, he’s right…it would need to be a high bar indeed! 😀 This is such a lovely heartwarming post which has me smiling and a big tear eyed watching the video. Often we are too cautious to talk, misjudge and then it just takes that one second for everything to change. On my first sole transatlantic flight I was beyond scared and a very friendly guy from Boston befriended me…during the next seven hours we talked on/off, swapping life stories and I learnt a lot about the place I was visiting. Still remember him with kindness to this day. Wishing you a lovely weekend! ❤️

  14. This is a wonderful story Pam and close to my heart. I had some wonderful seat mates over the last 40 years. Some of them I will never forget. They make a long flight so much easier . There was the oil worker in Africa, I should have written down his story. My all-time favorite was the Marlboro man from about 30 years ago. I never again felt so protected in my life. I am flying today in the middle seat, let’s hope for the best.

  15. Aw, that’s a lovely story! I love how you both saw past your initial impressions. My favorite random seatmate was a teenaged boy who’d ignored me the entire flight (which as an introvert I appreciated). That is until we hit some excessive chop on the descent. The plane dipped and lurched. He leaned over and quietly asked if I’d mind if he held my hand. I thought the kid was an arrogant teen too cool to talk to me. It turns out he was simply terrified of flying. I extended my hand, which he held until touchdown. It was very sweet and I hope his future flights were less eventful.

    • That’s another great thing about flying – our seatmates and other passengers are from all ‘walks’ of life, together up in the air, and we let go of our barriers and learn so much from each other. Thanks, Robbie. xo

  16. Oh goodness, where’s the tissues? Sniff sniff. Beautiful post, Pam, as always filled with so much heart. I watched the ad and didn’t even notice the costumes. All I saw was the love, love, love. It wasn’t until I read your note about the content that I understood. I hope someday that we don’t notice the costumes… ever… only the love. Keep it up, my friend.

  17. Super story, Pamela. When I was a harried business person traveling I would do the same. Jump into work. I think if ever I had you as a seatmate I would forgo all that to talk. In over 45 years of airplane travel, I can count on one hand the number of interesting people sitting next to me.Maybe if I had stopped working it might have made a difference. I doubt it though.

    • The fact is, sitting on an airplane is a great time to work/write/read. We have too little quiet time in our regular lives, and the only thing I’ve enjoyed about flying is that I get to turn off all distractions and just concentrate on a book or my writing journal. B U T, every once in a while, connecting with a “stranger” can open up our lives more than any fascinating piece of writing. Funny, that. 🙂

    • Thanks for enjoying my “flighty” story, Andrea. After reading the comments from others here, I realize that if I don’t pay attention to my seatmate each time I fly off, I could miss connecting with people like the incredible ones here in our blogosphere.

    • Carrie, you and me both. I think being an introvert has always made it easier, in some ways, for me to sit quietly in my seat and not even try to strike up a conversation with another passenger. And to be honest, in the past, I have experienced one or two who have ‘talked my ear off’ while flying, and I feel like a caged pigeon. But now I’m also realizing that I should keep my options open, introvert or not. ❤

  18. Authors are always looking for stories, I am amazed how you bump into them effortlessly Pam! What a heart-warming story and some memorable moments! Lovely video… Thanks for sharing!

    • 🙂 I like that expression – “shows to go you.” For sure, we never know the stories within strangers who sit right beside us – or their hearts – unless we invite them to open up. xo

    • LOVELY expression. I have a horrible singing voice (unfortunately, since I sing – alone – often), but I’m humming the tune to “It’s not who we meet, it’s who stays in our hearts” all day. ❤

  19. Hey Pam, Namaste 🙂

    A delightful little tale told with tenderness and warmth: both are attributes of ‘friendship’ and apply regardless of the period of time we share someone’s company. I have always thought that the most ‘significant’ meetings we have are always those that come through chance (or good fortune). I like to think that all the billions of actions, decisions, and choices I have ever made lead up to that moment of engagement: one instinctively knows when meeting someone feels different to the norm and in a way that cannot be clearly defined but yet feels comfortable. It is a curious thing.

    May I ask why you took offense that this nice-looking man barely looked up, and why you thought he was dismissing you? Was he not engaged with his laptop and other more pressing matters? I’m not sure I would have any real expectation that a fellow passenger next to me would want to engage with me. People can be quite insular but I wouldn’t consider I were being dismissed if they didn’t want to chat. In general terms I find passengers either talkative or not, there doesn’t seem to be middle ground. Personally I’ll talk to anyone about anything and normally conversations starts with a joke, a shared smile or a moment of comedy…much like the way it was here for you. Humour and an honest smile that reaches one’s eyes is all it takes to remove barriers of distrust or fear or uncertainty, share a common denominator, set the foundations for honesty and openness, and make a new friend.

    I hope you will stay befriended on Facebook with your high-flying businessman acquaintance and go on swopping stories and tall tales. Take care of that ‘friendship’ from afar.

    Enjoy the weekend Pamela. I hope you’ll be cutting loose of convention and living la vida loca for 48 hours 🙂 And if not, why not? 🙂

    Love and Peace. Namaste 🙂


    • You ask a pertinent, intense question. Why, indeed, would I be miffed at someone dismissing me, when I’d already dismissed him? Call it the insecurities of a middle-aged woman. Inside my head, I’m not a woman or a man, a girl or a boy. I’m a spirit who loves to observe, to communicate, to spread some joy and insight, to whomever I connect to. But my outward appearance, while not unattractive, is still dismissible to many – “just” a woman, no one important, probably boring and leading a ho hum life. I’ll repeat – my own insecurities. I don’t believe that anyone lives a ho hum life- we all have reams of fascination within us, if we’d only share. But mostly — we hide our stories, not only from others, but also from ourselves. ❤

  20. Love this! I don’t always engage with seatmates on planes, mostly because I’m an introvert and I usually have a good book to read. But, I remember talking to a young man (I’m not sure what started our conversation) for much of a long flight and I’m so glad I did. He was engaging, interesting, and awfully cute (never mind that I was decades his senior 🙂 ). I learned from that interaction that I really can’t make a judgment based on a quick visual assessment.

    • From one introvert to another, I salute you. And to both of us, when we close up our books and engage with the person sitting next to us. It won’t always happen, but every once in a while, what a joyful surprise!

  21. I find it terribly difficult to strike up conversations with strangers on planes, trains, buses. I’m okay if I know it’s a quick passing, but I worry that if I start talking to someone they’ll want to talk the whole time. And I just love my inner space too much. 🙂

    Lucky that you had a great seatmate to talk to, and it sounds like the trip was memorable and touched both of you in a positive way. That goes far in this day and age!

    • I’m exactly like you in that way, Kate. Kind of like going to a party and being expected to be involved in ‘small talk’ all evening. How I hate small talk. But lo and behold, sometimes the small talk becomes large, loving, insightful and giving talk. Who knew? 🙂

  22. My unexpected flight experience happened on the shuttle bus between terminals in Washington. As we waited for the shuttle to fill, my husband, who has never met a stranger, started talking to our seat mate. Since she turned out also to be an author, we kept on talking. She asked me to send her my book and liked it well enough to write a cool review.

    • I love people like your husband, those who “have never met a stranger.” I wish I could be like that. But Paula, hang on to his arm when you travel and let him be your book agent – he could sell a lot of your books, my friend. 🙂 Wonderful example of how to connect with strangers. xo

  23. Nice story Pam. That sure doesn’t happen often. You’re lucky if you meet a kindred spirit once in a lifetime. I certainly haven’t. And I ‘get’ the vid and approve of the sentiments, but God it’s too schmaltzy for me to really like 🙂

    • I understand what you’re saying, Roy. My guy felt the same way. Me? Every time I watch the ad I cry. But one thing I know for sure, if you and I were sitting next to each other on a plane, having no idea who the other was, we’d still feel like we’d found a kindred spirit! ❤

  24. What an amazing story, Pam. Sometimes we are too quick to judge, to ‘box’ another. What a fortunate young man to be seated beside you. I agree with him, that you set the bar high; as I’m sure he did for you too. What a great lesson in compassion, and a story worth telling. I hope the video does get shared nationally – also about acceptance and unconditional love.

    • I can’t say that I’ll store my book in my carry on and start up a conversation on every flight. Yikes – that gives me heartburn. But I will definitely be less judgmental and more willing to connect on my flights from now on, Amy.

  25. We’ve had so many similar experiences, you and I, dear Pam. I, too, had a seat-mate fellow similar to yours. We didn’t end up bonding so intensely as you did, but he did offer a lovely gift. Maybe I will blog about it…maybe! You are inspiring today.

    • YAY! If I inspire my fellow goddess Kathy, my day (and post) is complete. THANK YOU for being inspired enough to write your own experience with a missed perception. Your post is fabulous (as is that free Club food!) 🙂 Ah, the world turns in marvelous funny ways, does it not, my friend? ❤

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  27. A connection made with a stranger – now a friend – just because the two of you let down your guards a bit. A good lesson for me, for sure! I came to visit you from Kathy’s blog.

  28. The ad brought tears to my eyes. If only everyone could be who they want to be, but society doesn’t always allow it. You and your seatmate have a wonderful bond. I’m glad he turned out to be a friend. Hugs.

    • I have a feeling that if most of us sat with a stranger in a secluded spot where we couldn’t listen to music/read a book/look at our device, but had to just peer into each other’s eyes and TALK, a whole lot more bonding would go on than happens in society nowadays. xo

  29. A really special interlude, Pamela. We humans have more in common than most of us realise. It’s always a bonus to sit next to someone friendly and chatty on a flight. It makes the time fly by very pleasantly. I love the ending to your anecdote. I’m sure I’d also enjoy your company. xx 🙂

  30. What a beautiful story Pam…I bet that made your flying trip much better. I think we all tend to do that from time to time and when flying, time seems short so perhaps we just don’t extend ourselves like we would in another situation…I’m happy you got a chance to put yourself out there and that he accepted your friendship. Some good news in a most often dismal one…Thanks for sharing.

    • Generally when flying, I put my head down to a book and don’t look up until we land. But I hopefully I’m learning my own lesson: look up and connect! And in this ‘dismal’ time as you mention, these friendly and loving connections are more important than ever. xo

  31. A. I would LOVE to have you as a “seatmate” on a long flight! I do not like to fly. I like the convenience of getting somewhere quicker, but the whole process makes me nuts. It isn’t fear though. It’s just the process and being stuck where I can’t stretch my legs or move for several hours. I cannot sleep on a plane either. Even with Ambien “on board” I was awake and jittery.
    B. What a treat to be next to what sounds like an awesome young man. We do have a tendency to make assumptions about people given outward appearances, dress, mannerisms etc. How cool to find out your thoughts were incorrect and you made a new friend.
    C. I cried.. The ad was done very well and hits extremely close to home . I have a wonderful cousin who lives in CA who is dealing with an 11 year old transgender daughter/son. She was talking about suicide at 8 Pamela! EIGHT years old because she couldn’t figure out what was “wrong” with her. So the parents have been extraordinary (along with my aunt) who is grandma, and have allowed her to change her appearance, the way she lives and even her name. She is so much happier now! So now, my cousin has 2 sons and that is the way we all treat him! I had the pleasure of spending time with this extremely gifted and intelligent child last August. To say that Aleko is smart is an understatement. But high IQ runs in this family. My cousin speaks 7 languages and at 11 and 9 her children speak 4 including Russian and Greek. However, they are the most unpretentious people you will ever meet. I could go on and on.. but I won’t! 😊
    I always keep your posts in my Inbox until I can read them because I always come away with a new thought and learn new words like “garrulous”. LOL! Great word and describes ME to a tee! he he!
    Have a great New Year Pamela! 😚

    • OHhh, your comments here have just given me a tingle up to my scalp. I love garrulous you. And I love seeing you here when you have time to jump in. On your #C, I have a friend whose daughter came out as gay when she was in high school, and now, living in SF, has become transgender, and changed to her full potential as a man. He is so much happier, and his parents have supported him all the way. At least there’s more chance in this day and age (than any other time before) of an individual being able to be exactly who he or she is.

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