I’ve done a bit of traveling – certainly not as much as I’d like, but enough to know not to try to shove a huge carry-on into the overhead compartments of a smaller plane. For that matter, my trip last weekend was a mere overnighter, and my stuff wouldn’t even fill one of the smaller rollers with the telescoping handles. I had three planes to board on the way there, and two on the way back. Five planes in the space of 36 hours. As I boarded plane number three at 5:30 AM, having been on planes or in airports since 6:30 PM the previous evening, I was tired and not in the mood for unsolicited comments.
I stepped into the plane and began making my way down the aisle, looking for my row, which was near the front that time. It was one of the smaller planes, but I figured I should still be able to fit my pliable bag with a change of clothes and a couple of paperbacks up in the bin. I lifted it up and was surprised to find that I could not wedge it in. I turned it to the side and it still wouldn’t fit. What kind of carry-ons were they expecting people to put up there – fanny packs?
I heard a woman’s voice behind me say, “It seems to be oversized.”
Before I even turned around I knew what I wanted to say. My bag was well within the size limits for carry-on luggage. In fact, it was considerably smaller than any other carry-ons I had seen. It didn’t even have wheels! I wanted to say, “It’s not ‘oversized;’ this compartment is too small! My bag is definitely smaller than anyone else’s carry-on!”
I turned around and saw a woman who appeared to be in her fifties sitting in her seat across the small aisle from me. And then the non-confrontational tone of her observation hit me, and I somehow knew. It came to me in an instant. She was one of ours. There was nothing else about her that would have “given it away.” It was just her tone. My radar kicked in, and I realized that she was merely making an observation. She was not suggesting that I had ignored the size regulations for carry-on luggage. She was not passing any judgments. She was simply commenting on the situation as it appeared to her.
“I’ll just put it under the seat,” I said as I turned around and sat down. If she responded, I didn’t hear her.
I watched her a little bit during the flight. She read a book, got up and went to the lavatory once. (‘Lavatory’ always sounds funny to me.) Whenever I caught her profile, I didn’t see much emotion on her face, but that tends to be the norm with people traveling alone. There was nothing else about her that could confirm my theory about her neurological status. But her voice, her tone, her choice of words – that was enough.
So as I’m making dinner tonight, I call Nigel in the kitchen to do one of the chores that he alternates with Aidan – unloading the dishwasher. Usually he balks at it, but he’s compliant this time, probably because I had allowed him to buy a small cat figurine at the store this afternoon. He comes in, begins putting the dishes away, asks me where a strainer goes, and he remembers on his own before I can answer him. Then he holds up the serving spoon that matches the silverware set and turns to me.
“It seems to be oversized.”
Yes. He does. He says the same exact words in the same exact tone as the woman on the plane. I feel the hair stand up at the base of my neck. I quickly regain my composure and tell him what it is and where it goes. And then for the second time I am really glad that I hadn’t been argumentative with the woman on the plane. I am glad that I waited that split second for the recognition to dawn on me before I spoke. I am glad that I had just let her make her observation and left it at that. She’d probably had many negative experiences with people yelling at her and correcting her. I know because of my son. I have learned so much from him. Patience, for one. Open-mindedness. Compassion. And I’ve learned that I don’t always have to be right. After all, if you look at it logically, my bag was oversized for that compartment. How could I have argued with that?!