During a recent journey to visit our family in Australia, we were on the long second leg from Dubai to Adelaide. Two middle-aged women of Arabic origin were seated in the row ahead and had caused considerable disruption for both the crew and fellow passengers. For want of a better word, their behaviour lacked what we might call social graces, though there was a nagging doubt that, since they were from a very different world, it may simply have been that they didn’t understand what was needed on a jet-liner, with an economy cabin packed with other people.
The fact that they didn’t speak any English didn’t help, either. Though the Emirates crew were polite, caring and multi-lingual.
At the start of the flight the two women had ignored their booked seats and chosen ones they liked – they had taken mine and my wife’s. By the time we got there, the general scene was chaotic.
A steward was already present, attempting to re-seat them before the rightfully-ticketed arrived. Having taken their own seats, they proceeded to make such a fuss that the plane could not take off. The patience of the cabin crew endured and they were eventually relocated back in our seats – the cabin crew having found us acceptable alternatives, behind them – and asked our forbearance.
During this, I had tried to help the two women relocate their bags only to have my hand brushed aggressively away by the elder sister. I explained that I was trying to help, but the damage was apparently done. During the course of the night that followed, they deposited all sorts of rubbish on and around their seating area, including the aisle. Later, one of them attempted to sleep on the floor, against the bulkhead by one the emergency exits; to be re-seated, amidst indecipherable cursing, by the long-suffering steward.
It was going to be a long flight…
Eventually, nearing our destination of Adelaide, one of the ladies realised that her cabin bag was still in the storage unit above my head. She stood by me and stretched up to work the catch but her short stature made it impossible. I realised that I was in the middle of the very situation about which I had recently written in one of the final Silent Eye lessons. Here was a chance to reach into a complex and emotionally-skewed situation and ‘heal’ it by a gesture of kindness – and a putting aside of prejudice (against their behaviour, not their race) to get face to face with the objective truth.
Holding the tension and antagonism in my upper body, I took a deep breath and exhaled it, ‘stopping’ my negative reaction, I rose to open the overhead unit and retrieve the lady’s bag. As I did so, I could feel the tension in the situation ‘melt’. As my arm swung down to return her humble possessions, her eyes filled with a tearful light that someone had, unexpectedly, helped her. She looked into my eyes, touched her heart and made a slight bow to me.
Unprompted, on the way back to her seat she picked up her rubbish from the isle.
As I was later to write, you could literally taste the ‘changed’ nature of the moment- it was actually sweet…
Such actions are not easy. They require an initial sacrifice of the egoic self – the personality. Beyond that, a deeper sense of Self, much more connected with the objective truth of the moment, watches and waits.
Our world is defined by violence in one form or another. My personal belief is that we can evolve no further as its inhabitants unless we learn to empathise and feel the other’s pain – no matter who the ‘other’ is… Life is life is One.
©Copyright Stephen Tanham 2017.