As we flew home to Los Angeles from Philadelphia, we noticed a young girl sitting between an older man and woman.
The girl appeared to be about 11-years-old. As she settled in, she introduced herself to the others, explaining that her mother was sitting several rows behind due to some glitches through the airline. I expected the introductions to lull into silence, but that assumption was far from accurate.
The girl delightfully “interviewed” each person, engaging the three of them in a conversation about professions, hobbies, movie and music interests, and family dynamics. I couldn’t help but eavesdrop and secretly wanted to join. Not once did the conversation feel forced, nor did I notice either passenger look annoyed. Natural breaks would occur: Time to read, watch television, or sleep. But rhythmically, they would fall back into step, sharing stories and getting to know each other.
It seems like the inclination on airplanes is the opposite of what I witnessed. Get into your seat, acknowledge your row-mates, and then, never speak again. Slight interruption for asking to use the restroom. But otherwise, don’t make eye contact and maintain as much legroom and armrest control as possible. Engaging in storytelling and finding commonalities is not what we signed up for.
But what if we did? The three passengers were from different states and led very different lives. They didn’t exchange numbers but clearly enjoyed the experience of connecting for a few short hours. The greatest risk each of those passengers took was moving beyond an initial hello. Great risk, great reward.
There is benefit in seeing worth in a stranger. Pirke Avot teaches, “Ben Zoma said: ‘Who is wise? He who learns from every man….’” The text does not say, “He who learns only from the seatmates worthy to speak with.” We have a sacred obligation to see each person, friend, stranger, and even foe as someone who will help us gain wisdom. Wisdom as to how to better impact and engage in this world.
In these final weeks of summer, happy flying. Perhaps in between your nap and good book, you just might meet someone that will reveal a lesson worth learning.
But first, you have to say hello.
In partnership with The Jewish Journal, you can also find Rabbi Guzik’s blog post HERE.