Reaching Out

by John Stafford
Orange, Texas, USA

It had been a long week of out-of-town business meetings, and on Friday afternoon I was scheduled to fly home from Baltimore to Houston. From the looks on the faces of my fellow passengers and conversations I overheard, everyone was tired and ready to go home. What we wanted was not what we received.

Stormy weather in Houston caused several delays in takeoff, then rerouted us to a different city for an unscheduled stop. After even more delays, the mood in the plane was tense. Everyone was tired and wanted to get home, but we were helpless: nothing we could do would change the weather.

Each person reacted to the situation in their own way: some complained to those nearby, some shifted about in their seats in an agitated way. An elderly lady in the window seat across the aisle from me closed her eyes and seemed to be trying to block it all out. The young lady who was sitting next to the elderly lady buried herself in a large book.

Finally, we were in the air again heading for Houston, and began to run into the remains of the storms that had closed the Houston airport. As the turbulence shook the plane, the elderly lady became frightened and instinctively reached her hand out toward the younger lady. This young lady stopped reading her book, looked up with a smile, and held the woman’s hand. I could hear them as they tried to talk to one another, but the elderly lady spoke almost no English. She seemed embarrassed about disturbing the younger lady and withdrew her hand. But the turbulence shook the plane even harder, causing her to reach out again.

The language barrier, the age difference, the weariness of time spent away from home, and the frustrations of the delayed flight — none of that seemed to bother the young lady. She put her book away, smiled, and held the older lady’s hand through the turbulence. The younger lady comforted the older lady and calmed her fears for almost half an hour, until we landed safely in Houston.

One person reaching out their hand to help another person by holding their hand: such a simple act, but such a powerful act. It reminded me of the times I’ve found myself in situations where I needed help myself. In each situation someone went out of their way, put aside what they were doing, reached out their hand — and helped me.

Originally published as HeroicStories #186 on Nov 24, 2000

3 thoughts on “Reaching Out”

  1. We had a similarly turbulent plane ride into Boston out of the Caribbean one night. As we came in for a landing, the plane felt like it was bucking and bouncing all over the sky. The poor young woman to my right was clearly terrified, and had a death grip on our shared seat arm. I was pretty freaked out as well, but she looked a lot worse than I felt, so I just reached over and put my hand on her arm. She didn’t acknowledge it, but she also didn’t pull away, so I just left it there as we came in. We landed safely, and she finally pried her hand loose from the seat arm, turned to me and thanked me for my reassuring hand. She said it made a huge difference to her to know someone cared, even if she was physically unable to acknowledge it at the tme. As Anna mentioned above, sometimes it doesn’t take much to help.


Leave a Comment