Nobody wants to travel by air with a cranky flight crew.
Our plane had already been delayed by various unrelated circumstances when one passenger suddenly realized her laptop computer was in her plane-side-loaded luggage (lithium battery and all), and so it had to be found, taken out, and brought into the cabin with us for safety reasons. So the flight attendant made an announcement to that effect, again. And two more passengers came forward, exchanging their chagrin for our safety, and their bags were duly located, unloaded, and unpacked. Happily, nothing exploded, nothing caught fire, nobody got hurt; although we were by then about 45 minutes delayed, and the flight crew was getting rather irked. (I think the rest of us were just sitting quietly cringing with the thought: “Yipes … those batteries are in everything … it’s hard to remember them all … that could have been me.”)
Since I was seated in the front of the plane, I was a first-row witness to it all. And so I reached up and thanked the flight attendant for being so kind and patient. And I handed her a Hershey’s dark chocolate candy kiss – universally recognized in its shiny purple foil wrap. Her face slid into a slow grin, and she took the candy happily, eating it right then and there. And she asked if I had any more for the other attendant and maybe the pilots. She said the pilots would be especially pleased to be so recognized. And, of course, I did have more and I did share them with the others. I never travel without them. A whole family-sized bag of them.
On another trip, not long before that one, I disbursed practically an entire bag of the candy to one distraught hired-car driver who had, inexplicably and without provocation, launched into a very loud vitriolic political tirade as we were traveling 75 miles an hour across Chicago tollroads toward (I hoped) O’Hare airport, dodging traffic and speeding around construction hazards. I just kept handing him chocolate after chocolate after chocolate over the back of the seat, not saying a word to him, wondering if I could somehow get the door open and tuck-and-roll sufficiently, or if I was going to wind up at a truck stop in Gary, Indiana, on the 11 o’clock news.
I can’t confirm it was the chocolate, which he ate as fast as I could hand it to him (although it didn’t slow his commentary down a bit), but I did get to the airport. And he left perhaps a little less furious – the anger transformed into at least a less threatening sugar buzz.
I find traveling with my small dark chocolates in their sparkly purple jackets serves in other, more delightful ways, as well. Opening conversations. Breaking barriers. Bonding strangers. Touching hearts. Seeing another’s eyes.
I suspect it is because, when you hand someone a bit of chocolate, you’re noticing them. You’re validating their existence – beyond just recognizing a shared human experience, the sharing of a small personal enjoyment together.
My traveling chocolate offerings are rarely declined. But even then, they are acknowledged with genuine joy. Regardless of age or life histories or any kind of apparent similarities or connection. Being noticed counts. And I suspect that this noticing of one another is becoming increasingly important in our decreasingly tender world.
In our Western culture in particular, we’ve historically become more easily unnoticed – more readily overlooked or dismissed – as we’ve aged. The older we became, the more we seemed to be considered irrelevant. Less valid. Less contributory. Perhaps even suspect of causing delay or disruption to the everyday order of things. Certainly less able to participate in all the global solutions that need us.
I suspect this may be changing, however. Perhaps not coincidentally, and with a delighted sense of irony, I recently noted the latest recipients of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. There were three of them: aged 97, 77 and 71, respectively. They won for their work on lithium-ion batteries.
Chocolates all around, please.