Remember when you were a kid and holding hands felt natural? When it didn’t hold significance beyond “something about you appeals to me and it feels natural to touch you?” Or when you sought protection through this gesture, regardless of what person was at the other end of that arm, as long as that person made you feel safe? When you just naturally reached without thinking? Those were the days.              ~~~

I fly a lot, so most of what happens during the logistics phase of my trips has become old hat to me. Yesterday, though, I had a new experience. The woman seated next to me seemed somewhat harried when she arrived. Her movements were jerky and slightly frantic, but I attributed that to the accelerated boarding process brought about by our late-arriving aircraft.

I had pegged this woman as early twenties, possibly a college student, and that was confirmed when she started tweaking her resume shortly after take-off. (It’s hard not to notice with seats that close together and a large laptop display.) Her typing seemed off, too–short bursts of frenetic key-pounding followed by several rounds of correction and an occasional expletive under her breath. Even so, it took me by surprise when she ordered a shot of straight whiskey from the flight attendant. I couldn’t get a bead on this woman whose actions didn’t seem to fit her demographic.

When we hit some rough air, it all came together for me. My seatmate’s hands flew up and she swallowed a scream. I looked at her and saw that she was shaking.

“Not a flyer?” I asked.

“Oh, no,” she said. “I hate this.”

I talked to her for a few minutes hoping that the interaction would calm her down, then went back to reading my iBook. The turbulence wasn’t extreme, but it continued. When the flight attendant announced a few minutes later that the rest of the flight would probably be bumpy, I could see my seatmate’s anxiety rise even higher. As I talked to the woman, her right hand inched toward mine more than once, but she pulled it back each time. Finally, in a panic, she asked if she could hold my hand.

Surprising myself, I said yes without hesitation. I felt privileged that my human touch could be counted as comfort to a complete stranger. It made me think back to my November post, I’m only human, when I admitted turning into an airport monster, someone who turns bares her teeth when her travel space is invaded. I was glad that this time I had done the right thing.

As I get older, I believe more firmly that our culture suffers from a dearth of casual contact. Anytime someone inadvertently brushes against us, we assume the worst and check our pockets for our valuables. While I’m as diligent about self-preservation as anyone, part of me laments the lack of warmth this brings. I don’t know what the answer is, but I do know that I’m glad I let go of the airport monster yesterday.

I also know that holding that woman’s hand felt pretty darned good to me, too. Natural, even.

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