Lessons from Seat 22F

Nov. 22, 2023

Sitting in aisle seat 21D, I patiently watched as our Flight Attendant pushed the drink cart towards me: Row 9, Row 15, Row 20.  Finally.

Parched lips awaited her arrival, eagerly anticipating the carbonated, iced-Diet Coke that would tickle my dry esophagus. Life’s little pleasures—a cold beverage served at 33,000 feet.

“Something to drink?” she asked, handing me a cellophane package of pretzels while locking the cart wheels with her left foot.

“Sure,” I enthusiastically responded. “Any chance I can get a whole can of Diet Coke?”

Effortlessly, she slipped a familiar 12-ounce silver cylinder onto my tray with a plastic cup of ice. Snapping the tab, I poured the brown fluid, listening contently to the fizz. Pressing my lips to the cup’s rim, I took my first satisfying gulp. For a brief moment, all seemed right with the world.

“And you, sir?” she beckoned the man in the window seat in the row behind me. “What can I get you?”

“A Coke would be wonderful,” he replied.

“Would you like a whole can?” she queried.

“Only if there’s enough,” he kindly announced. “For those in the rows behind me.”

“Excuse me?” she beckoned.

“I’ll take a whole can if you’ve got enough for everyone else.”

“Sir,” warmly announced the attendant to everyone listening, “You’ve just set a new bar for thoughtfulness. Twenty years doing this job, nobody’s ever said that to me. You’re the first.”

I took another swig, shrunk in my seat, and experienced what I might call a pang of conviction.

Why is it that the most impactful sermons I experience often come at unexpected moments, in unexpected places, from unexpected people? No organ music. No accompanying hymn. No pastoral prayer. Just a surprising gesture of grace, a truthful word, an extravagant gesture of generosity… an act of extreme thoughtfulness.

The anonymous man in seat 22F just gave us all a master class in “considering others.” He considered the needs of those in the remaining 6 rows over his own. Psychologists might call this a “self-transcending” perspective. Christian faith calls it the golden rule—doing to others as you would have them do to you. One cup of Coke can be enough if it means others get a drink as well.

And might this be the core message of the Thanksgiving season? Sure, we’ll eat a lot of turkey, candied yams, and pumpkin pie.

But in the exercise of giving thanks, we’re actually challenged to consider those, metaphorically, in the rows behind us. In the practice of gratitude, we pause, pull our eyes off ourselves, remind ourselves that we’re not the center of the universe… and consider.

This idea, in fact, might be one of the most redundant themes of Jesus’ teaching. Jesus repeatedly nudged self-centered human beings to look beyond themselves. “Consider the lilies of the field… consider how you listen… consider the light in you… consider the poor.” Jesus beckons us to direct our eyes outward, considering those living beyond our row. Easier said than done. Maybe that’s why he kept reminding us.

William Sloan Coffin once said, “There is no smaller package in the universe than a person all wrapped up in themselves. Love is the measure of our stature. The more we love, the bigger we become.”

Grateful for the guy in seat 22F this Thanksgiving season. His simple gesture of thoughtfulness raised the bar for us all. We just need to take a moment… and consider how we might respond.

A wonderful Thanksgiving!

Bruce Main
Founder & President