Once, traveling alone from Charlotte, NC after a conference, I arrived to the airport far earlier than I normally would (thanks much, hotel shuttle), and it was perhaps the best two hours I’ve had in airport, spent in the company of two people whose names I will never know.
Wandering down the concourse, coffee in hand, nowhere to be for some time, I saw an older man, in a tweed jacket and wool plaid cap (the kind my dad called a “driving cap”) outside the men’s restroom, talking a little sternly to a beautifully-dressed older woman. “Stay right here!.” he said, “I’ll be right back — don’t move!” He went in the restroom. She looked around briefly, and wandered down the concourse. He popped back out of the restroom door, “No no no, stay here!”. I went over to him, and said, “I can wait with her.”. He went back in. She and I chatted. She told me they’d been married 55 years. They had two children. They were going to Minnesota. Or maybe Florida. She met him at a party in a hotel lobby, where he was playing the piano. He was a doctor. She was a nurse. The party was thrown by the hospital they both worked for. He came back out of the bathroom, and gathered up the coats and her small bag and an attache case he had left on the ground near her. He thanked me profusely, and I was told him I enjoyed getting to know his wife. “Let’s get some breakfast, dear,” he said to her. I said, I can sit with your bags if you’d like. We all walked to the gate across the concourse, and the wife primly sat down. I whispered to the gentleman that I’ll just sit right there with her, and he nodded and went to get breakfast. She told me they’d been married 55 years, and they met at a party thrown by a hospital they both worked for, and he surprised everyone by playing the piano in the hotel lobby at the party. They were going to Denver. Or maybe Florida. He came back with juice and muffins, and asked me if I wanted some. I said, my flight is not for a while, so I’m happy to sit if he wanted a break. I had heard of someone’s relief being palpable, but never seen it happen until that moment. He ate a little, then walked a short distance to make a phone call. She told me they’d been married 55 years. They met at a party. They lived in Denver for a long time.
After a while, we just sat quietly. The man dozed a little, reading the paper. The wife nudged him each time a flight announced a boarding: “Flight 232 to Atlanta, now boarding at Gate 17!”, “Is that us?”, she’d ask. No, he’d say; we are going to Tallahassee. Eventually, I’d just tell her, “you’re waiting for Tallahassee to be announced” with each new update. And she’d nod, smiling, “of course”. Sometimes she told me they lived in Denver. Then she told me they lived in Minneapolis. I told her my son was moving to Denver. “Oh! We live there! It’s lovely!”. Finally, the flight to Tallahassee was called. The man gathered their things, and thanked me again, far too profusely. I told him it had been my pleasure, and she was a delight. He told me they’d been married 55 years, and lived in Florida, and had just visited their son and grandchildren. “She knows that!”, said the wife, “I told her!”. I smiled. I told her I was leaving to find my own gate, and she took both my hands, “You know what? I have always liked you — since the day I met you!”. I hugged her, and when I looked at the husband, both his eyes and mine were teary.
You don’t know. You do not know. If you have your act together, maybe only just enough to get through the day, then take a hot second and make someone else’s day a little easier. Because, I am telling you, the road is long and the load is not always light, and sometimes we are truly weary and at the edge of heartbreak; most of us are just doing the best we can.
That crying baby on the airplane? Offer to help the mom. Do some yoga in the hospital surgery waiting room, and encourage others to join in. Pay the toll for the car behind you in line. Ask to speak to the manager, then compliment the waitress or the cashier who helped you. Tell that teacher on a field trip to the museum they are doing great work. Tip live musicians. Bring bagels to the fire department. Stop at a Little League field and root for whoever is batting, or watch a 5k and cheer for random runners. Buy a box of classroom valentines then sign them “with love” and drop them at the Veteran’s Hospital or nursing home. Eat at local diners and coffee shops, buy art and jewelry at craft fairs, frequent bake sales and farmer’s markets and lemonade stands. You know: be warm, be kind, smile more, hold the door, be a freaking decent human. Trust me on this: someone, right now, needs you to be a freaking decent human, and you have all the equipment you need to do it.
This Valentine’s Day thing can be hard, so if you’re lucky enough to know some love of your own, share it. Don’t worry about being someone’s valentine; just get out there a be a valentine yourself. On any given day, someone is feeling they simply cannot go it alone, and guess what: WE are the grace and WE are already amazing; WE are the sanctuary, WE are the blessing, WE are the lighthouse, WE are the difference, WE are the bosom of Abraham, WE are the people, WE are the tide shift, WE are the sea change, WE are the damn valentine. Do something small so someone else knows they matter, and you can be the person they’ve liked since the day they met you, without ever knowing your name.