So, here goes:
I desperately wanted to contribute to a family’s life, to be “active” and help bring about more happiness and connection. And I realllllly didn’t know how, and I felt so helpless.
Before boarding my flight from Frankfurt-Colombo, I noticed a family going through the X-ray thing with their hand baggage and kids. A German man, a Tamil wife, a 5-year-ish old boy and 2 baby walking-aged twin boys. I noticed them, because the twin boys were full of energy one minute and seemingly upset the next. They were walking (or running) around the boarding gate area, and both the parents plus the older brother were trying to keep them close by. When they were picked up, they’d start crying and screaming and kicking. They attracted quite an audience! And my thoughts were: “oops, they’ve got a hand-full… ; oh boy, how do they manage out in the world?; mmm, they don’t seem worried or concerned at all when the little ones walk far away…”
This family ended up sitting several rows ahead of me in the plane, and there was no way I could miss them. The little ones cried most of the flight, and the father… oh boy… He got drunk and got into a verbal altercation with another passenger close by. They spoke in German and I picked up things like “Schlampe” (bitch).
As many passengers peeped their heads up to see what was going on and no steward “came to the rescue,” I started to feel all kinds of things… Sad for the wife and kids… Angry and disturbed by the man’s behaviour… Lots of judgements about him, about drinking, about getting drunk on a plane, about not caring for his kids or wife, about looking like an idiot arguing with a total stranger… But I still had the thought: “If only I could go up to him now and give him empathy…” I didn’t dare. I was too afraid he’d start yelling at me too! And I was nervous that it wouldn’t improve the situation or be of any help and support…
I also felt sad for the mom, and I wondered how she felt about her husband’s behaviour. I made eye contact with her a few times and smiled, as I walked up and down the aisle for some exercise. I wanted to connect with her, and I didn’t know how…
I really had no idea what I could do to help. The only thing that seemed do-able was to mail Sri Lankan Airlines and to share my concern for passenger safety and inquire how they deal with drunk passengers. But I wasn’t convinced that they’d even acknowledge my mail, or that this would do anything to help people in the future. Plus, I didn’t see how an email would help this family feel more connected and self-empowered.
Then I ran into them again, in the waiting room in Colombo, before boarding my flight to Chennai. I was surprised to see them there, and I purposely sat next to them. I was surprised by my choice, but I think I wanted to be “in the middle” of their shit instead of “feel like” (not a feeling!) a powerless onlooker.
I was really surprised to see the man still quite drunk, and he was drinking a beer. I was shocked by how little he interacted with the twins. He sat slouched on the chair and mumbled a few things now and then. When the older son would come to him, the father would kiss him on the cheek – a wet kiss that the son would wipe off with his hand. I was relieved the father didn’t yell at him and say something about him not liking his kisses! People started to look at him, and when they’d warn him that one of the twins was hurt or in a dangerous place, he didn’t react at all.
I finally got the courage to say something to the father! I told him that his son had gone into the other waiting room, but he didn’t seem too concerned. However, he started to ask me questions: the time, whether this was the waiting room for Chennai, where was I going… He started to share a bit about himself, and I could put a little context to the story.
He’s 47, lives half-time in India, half-time in Germany. He likes India because it’s cheap and has easy drugs. His wife likes Germany, but he wishes she’d be willing to live full-time in India. She doesn’t understand anything about life. She just likes the money that Germany provides. She doesn’t understand all the bullshit in Europe, the politics, etc.
Wow! I felt so sorry for the wife. She kind of looked at us talking, and I sensed she felt uncomfortable. At one point, she asked her husband to not talk (in German). He continued to share with me. I really wanted to give the wife my phone number. I wanted to ask her to call me when she had a private moment. I desperately wanted to give her empathy and to empower her.
But I did nothing!!!
Liv, Kay, thank you so much for this new awareness! It was there in me before, and I could have easily started journaling and giving myself self-empathy for the situation, but I absolutely love the challenge to find ways of being ACTIVE and contributing to making the world a more enjoyable place for all!!