The kindness of strangers
In an era of anonymity, the simplest acts can go a long way

The kindness of strangers
Doug Gonzalez - 02/15/2024

Over the weekend, I ventured to Miami to see some friends from college. It was one of their birthdays, and I had decided some months ago to go because I wanted to start traveling more often. In the days leading up to the trip, I heard about a snowstorm that would hit Durango on Friday afternoon. With my plane scheduled to leave on Friday morning, I thought “What perfect timing!” But then on Thursday night, the snow started.

It wasn’t just the snow I was worried about. I bought a 4x4 years ago, and it has been a literal life saver in the snow. It was the ice. The temperature started to drop steadily through the night, and by the time my alarm went off at 4:45 a.m., I was regretting the decision to book an early flight. I deeply considered staying in bed, where it was warm and where my joints weren’t yet creaking. Wrapped in my blankets, I thought, “...perfect timing my ass.” I eventually hopped out of bed after hitting snooze only once, and began the journey toward the airport. 

The first clue that my day was going to be “odd” was that my vehicle’s ignition switch had frozen stiff. The panic started to set in while I tried to start my car for a couple of minutes. Only after I was convinced that my key was going to break off inside the switch did it finally turn. At the airport, the main parking lot was filled, and the lot behind the airport had the only availability – four rows into the edge of the lot where there was thick snow.

The boarding process went smoothly, and it appeared like the first leg of the trip was going to go well. However, the ice had other plans. We sat on the tarmac for an hour and a half while different parts of the plane got defrosted. It was a funny situation to be in; I wanted to leave, but waiting gave me the peace of mind of knowing that the crew was removing more dangerous bits of ice. 

On the second plane, this one on its way to Miami, I asked the flight crew, “Is it like this before every flight?” It felt chaotic, like we were all frustrated to be there. It seemed like the seats were tighter than the last time I flew. The air also somehow felt hot and cold at the same time. I sat down in my seat, squished between two men. I repositioned my hat and tried to get as comfortable as possible for the four-hour flight. At first, I tried attending to some work that was due that night, but the turbulence of the plane made me quickly put it away. I tried dozing on and off for an hour and a half, regretful that I didn’t have a neck pillow. I was then awoken by a passenger in the row in front of me saying, “Hey bud, hey!” She was hitting the arm of the guest sitting beside her, trying to get him to respond. They were strangers, but her profession as a nurse made her notice the tell-tale signs of a drug overdose – his lips had turned blue and he had sweated through his shirt.

She threw her ear bud out onto the floor and began to hit his arm harder. “We need some help over here!” The crew eventually came running, although it felt like they had forgotten this part of their training. I wondered if anyone who has a career outside of medicine can ever mentally prepare for this type of incident.

So I just sat there, strapped to my 16-inch wide, basic economy seat, looking on with a bag of emotions. I felt fear that the gentleman might continue spiraling. I felt moved by the quickness and intent of this person to help this stranger. I felt frustrated thinking that we may need to land the airplane, thus extending the travel time – and the shame that came from recognizing that this sort of frustration doesn’t align with who I want to be.

The man was eventually revived and reseated closer to the front of the plane. His vitals were checked periodically, and he was able to walk off the plane safely. This incident made me wonder about the kindness of strangers. Are there instances in your life where you have relied on someone you just met? I found myself thinking about the possible differences in political, cultural or religious backgrounds between the nurse, the overdosing passenger and even myself, and how I wanted to commend her for acting on her instinct to help this man. I also thought about the luck of the two of them sitting next to one another. It made me think about the possibility of a higher power – we are sometimes not given the choice to sit where we want and how that can save us. 

On my arrival back to Durango, I stepped off the plane and found myself enjoying the chilly air that had delayed my trip just a few days ago. I removed my mask, but the rubber band got stuck on one of my earrings. With a slight tug, the earring popped off, and I heard it ding on the ground. A gift from my mom to my sister, who then gifted it to me, I tried to calmly search for it. But my mind and eyes scrambled the ground, fearful that I might have lost it forever. Eventually, a kind stranger found it, in the cracks, a few feet away from me.

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