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A Story of Sweetness, Gentleness, and Kindness

October 27, 2010

A Story of Sweetness, Gentleness, and Kindness:

I didn’t notice the man as I sat down at my gate at JFK airport, waiting to board my flight to Budapest. However, before I even settled into my chair, he walked over to me. He was elderly, hunched over, and gentle looking. He wore a red blazer over a navy blue vee-neck sweater, white shirt and maroon and blue striped tie. An American flag pin adorned his lapel. At first I thought he was some kind of airline customer service worker or volunteer, since his attire resembled a uniform.

He waved his hands and pointed to my carry-on bag, as if there was some kind of problem. I was puzzled and then he spoke in a genial tone and in a foreign language I didn’t recognize.  I  did not understand him or what he wanted and after a minute of this confusing interaction he went back to his seat at the end of the row across from me.

A couple minutes later he crawled over to the feet of the woman sitting beside me, picking up bits of litter along the way. He reached under her seat looking for more. She gently encouraged him away and he crawled back to his seat. We realized this man was harmless and had some form of mental impairment, perhaps dementia. He was sweet, though his odd behavior was a bit discomforting. Other passengers at the gate were noticing him as well.

As he walked around trying to talk to various people for no apparent reason, everyone was patient and kind. He was perpetually restless. Eventually a woman sitting a few rows away addressed him in his native tongue. He looked at her, smiled, and sat next to her for a minute or two. Apparently they were traveling together, and she seemed to be his wife and used to his behavior, but did not know how to handle it.

Eventually an airline employee approached him as he was moving about, and in a kind manner asked if he was okay. The airline representative also asked his wife if her husband would be able to sit for the long flight to Budapest. He then escorted them away from the gate. Several minutes later I saw them walking the concourse and later in line to board the flight.

Shortly after takeoff this man was walking the aisles of the plane, stopping at various rows, pointing and speaking to passengers. Then he would walk on at a fast pace. Sometimes he would crawl and pick up paper or crumbs. Invariably, a flight attendant would put her arm around his waist and escort him back to his seat. And a few minutes later he was up again, doing the same thing until a flight attendant gently led him back. This pattern repeated itself several times during the flight. Everyone was incredibly kind, understanding and patient with this man.

It was his sweet and gentle nature that seemed to bring out the best in people.

Steve Weitzenkorn

Steve Weitzenkorn, Ph.D., is a learning innovator, organizational advisor, experienced facilitator, and lead author of Find-Fulfill-Flourish: Discover Your Purpose with LifePath GPS – a book, tool kit, and workshop series focused on guiding people toward more meaningful and fulfilling lives.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. November 16, 2010 8:08 pm

    Nice post, Steve. :)Sometimes we’re so caught up in our own lives that we forget to be kind to other people. It’s good to be reminded. 🙂

    • November 16, 2010 8:28 pm

      Thanks so much for your feedback. It’s the little things we do sometimes that mean the most.
      My best,


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