I was recently on a plane with my three kids. We were flying to meet up with my husband, so I was outnumbered. The way the plane was set up, I sat in a row with my youngest, and my two oldest sat next to each other in the same row across the aisle from me. The plane had a particularly intense take-off and from across the aisle I heard a nervous voice call out, “Mom, can I come sit by you?”
I looked over to see my oldest had become a bit nervous with the intensity of the take-off. As I reached across the aisle to take his hand I said, “Not right now buddy. You need to stay in your seat. But I’m here. You are safe. Nothing is wrong.”
That is when I heard from the seat behind me, “Oh, yeah, he was so nervous, I saw him, he was just freaking out.”
I responded, “He’ll be okay.” And to him I kept repeating, “I got you buddy, you are safe.”
“I’ve got taffy. Does he want taffy? I got it from Disneyland,” the stranger offered.
“Oh, no thank you, he has snacks in his bag if he’s hungry,” I replied.
“Are you sure? You didn’t see him, but I saw him.”
Then she reached out to him and said, “It’s okay. I’m here for you.”
At this point I was becoming irritated. Also, I could tell my son’s nervousness was only increasing as a random stranger was attempting to engage him in conversation, offer him taffy, and pat his shoulder. Just as I was searching for the words to tell her to stop, the captain turned off the seat-belt sign. We all know what that means: It is obviously an invitation to immediately leap out of one’s seat, give the taffy wielding stranger a nervous look, and hop across the aisle into your mother’s lap. Once my son made it out of Taffy Lady’s glance, no more interaction was had for the rest of the flight.
Once the plane landed, she hopped out of her seat, glanced to our row and with a gasp said, “OH! You have THREE of them! (referring to my children) And you are all ALONE!!!”
“Yep!”, I replied. Then I smiled big and she then turned and walked up the aisle and off the plane.
The next part of our journey involved a ride on a commuter train. So, we got our luggage and slowly made it to the train with only a couple of mild tantrums from the littlest usually centered around if someone other than her pushed an elevator button. Once we got on the train we found a place to sit and settled in for the hour long ride.
While we were riding, many people got on and off the train. Eventually a man boarded with his bike and sat down nearby. He kept to himself mostly, and played a cute game of smiles with my youngest. We were riding during rush hour, so it was fairly crowded most of the ride. When we started to reach the end of the line, and the crowd started to thin, the kids were starting to get restless and could be heard repeatedly asking, “How many more stops? When will we get there?”
It was at that point that the friendly fellow sitting near us held up a small piece of paper and asked me if it was okay if he gave my kids a “helicopter”. It was a strip of paper that he had fashioned into a simple toy, that when held above one’s head would begin fluttering to the ground and spinning like a helicopter. THEY WERE DELIGHTED. We engaged in conversation and he ended up showing my kids how to make these little paper creations. I was so thankful for his desire to interact with my kids during the last part of what was a long day.
After we got off of the train and met my husband at the station, we got in the car and I began telling him of our fellow travelers. As I thought about it a little more over the next day, I wondered to myself why one person’s interaction and attempt at help rubbed me the wrong way and why another person’s was welcomed.
I think there are a few reasons for the stark contrast between my reactions to the help from Taffy Lady and Origami Man. Taffy Lady was abrupt and forceful in her approach, assumed she knew better than me, did not ask permission, her offer had very little practical application to what my son needed in that moment and I got the feeling her “helping” had more to do with her than helping us. In contrast, Origami Man had built a rapport with my kids, asked permission to interact, offered exactly what my kids were craving (a distraction from boredom), was unassuming and humble, and was gentle and friendly in his approach.
We can learn a lot from Taffy Lady and Origami Man. It is easy to villainize those who irritate us, but I wonder how many times we don’t understand a situation enough to intervene as we try to make the world a better place. Do I know enough to offer specific solutions? Could my efforts have adverse effects?
As I seek to support and encourage those around me, I’d love to be like Origami Man. I want to be mindful and try to understand and know people, ask questions, get permission if necessary, and offer help in a gentle, welcome, and truly helpful way. This surely will not always be an easy path, but definitely one worth traveling because I’m convinced it is a key part in pursuing the world’s best future.