"F? Is this F?" A man says. I open my eyes and look up to see him looking at his boarding pass. Reluctantly, I get up and make room for him as he wiggles his way in. Now the window seat filled. I'm still hopeful that the middle seat will remain vacant.
"Ladies and gentlemen we've now closed the door to the aircraft. Please power down and stow all portable electronic devices at this time."
Aright, not bad - no one in the middle! I can still get comfortable. I feel as though this man wants to say something to me, though. Why is this man trying to get my attention. I'm not trying to hear that. It's way passed my bed time and far too early for my 7am alarm to sing. I close my eyes, escaping from him and my nerves. Take off was smooth. I was kind of asleep for it.
"Excuse me. I have to use the washroom."
I wake up, with a frown, pull my shawl from over my head, and the sunshine sprays me in the eyes. He had lifted the window shade. Dammit. I get up so that he could wiggle out. I'm smiling, letting him know he's safe to go relieve himself. He returns, telling me that I look tired and offers me his window seat so I can lean on it. I decline, and let him know that I appreciate the offer and I like to get up and have the freedom to use the restroom often. He said okay, and reminded me of my fatigue on my face.
"I got three hours of sleep, so I'm determined to go to sleep."
"Oh, you've had two more than me." He says. I'm noticing his heavy accent. He spoke like the dad from My Big Fat Greek Wedding. He was no less that 55 years old, give or take. Grey hair. Grey mustache. His belly hung over his seat belt. When the flight attendants came around, he ordered a vodka orange juice and a coffee.
He then went on to tell me that he was in town for his nieces funeral. And that's when I woke up. He told me that she was an athlete, only 21. Her name is Alyssa Sialaris. That she would have been 22 next month, and that over a thousand people attended her funeral the day before, April 24th. He flew in from Toronto and stayed in San Jose with his family for the last 5 days. Within those 5 days he accumulated about 5 hours of sleep in total. Between arrangements, gatherings, and his sadness, he could not sleep.
I began to soften and suddenly, I was no longer hungry for sleep. Listening to this man, Christopher, share his story with me was the only thing that mattered. I asked how she died. He said the autopsy was unclear, and doctors are saying that she may have suffered from a heart attack...
"They gave us this bracelet. I don't know what it means."
The letters W.W.A.S.D were on the bracelet. He said that A.S. were here initials. I said, "I think I know what the other letters mean." He pulled it off his wrist and handed it to me. It was like one of those livestrong bracelets made of plastic, and it was the colors of the American flag.
"A few years ago there were bracelets with the letters W.W.J.D. which asked the question: What Would Jesus Do?" He did not understand.
"So, I think the question here is -- and this is for when you find yourself in certain situations -- you can look at your wrist and ask: What Would Alyssa Sialaris Do?" I said as I was pointing to each letter, slowly.
He threw his hand to his face, covering his eyes. He turns away from me, and looks out the window. Saying nothing to me. I was surprised at his reaction.
After a minute he pulls out a tissue and wipes his eyes. He turns back to me, and I breathe a sigh of relief because I wasn't sure if I'd upset him or if he was just having a moment of realization. He says to me with tears in his eyes, "God bless you. Thank you. They just handed these to everyone, and I'm an old man, I didn't know what it means! Thank you."
I'm noticing the redness and sufficient bags that hung underneath both his eyes. I nodded, looking in his eyes and said you're welcome. I was moved by his vulnerability. After a few moments passed by, I got a coffee and in the corner of my eye I see him shuffling through his things in the seat back pocket in front of him. He pulls out a zip lock. And hands it to me.
"Greek cookies. My sister made them yesterday." He smiles at me as I'm looking inside the ziplock. "Take this one, and this one."
He took two for himself and told me that the remaining two were for me to take with me. He made sure I had coffee in my cup before advising me to dip the cookie into my coffee. The first one was a cranberry biscotti. Normally I don't like them, but I set that dislike aside, and enjoyed the softness of it from the moisture of the coffee. He dunked his too. And then I imagined what he was like as a father many years ago. I imagined him at his kitchen table in Toronto, with his now ex-wife, two sons, dunking cookies in milk. Him telling elaborate exaggerated stories, his kids laughing while their mom rolls her eyes. He offered to buy me a drink; vodka I assume. I laughed to myself as I dunked the cookie one more time. "No thanks, I'm good with coffee."
Like that, a complete stranger and I were connected. I gave him my card and let him know he can always contact me if he needed to talk. Soon after, right around the Colorado Rockies, he dozes off and falls into a deep sleep. He looks at peace; no longer restless. In that moment, I knew that I made a difference and he was heard.
Even when you're tired, you can chose to be Love.