A world of inspiration: His First Flight

This second edition of ‘A world of inspiration‘ is a contribution from Tammie Dooley, a Midwest-based explorer, photographer and writer. Tammie’s story is simple yet compelling, with a profound insight that applies to all of us.


His First Flight

Upon boarding the plane we discover our window seat taken. My son John and I are 3 weeks into a 4 week backpacking trip of rural China, weariness having degenerated into truculence. In Mandarin, my son boots the man out and we reseat John at the window, me in the middle, the Chinese gentleman on the aisle. He begins fidgeting to see out. Minutes into the flight I’m sharing half my seat so he can have a better view. Flight attendants bring food and for the first time I take notice of the man. He doesn’t lower the tray, he’s fumbling with everything, clearly uncomfortable. He shoves the entire meal into a tiny knapsack under his seat. “This is his first flight” spews from my mouth as my head spins toward my son. John’s face registers and we communicate over the roar of the engines. Leaning over me John begins speaking Mandarin. The gentleman’s face lights up indicating he understands John wants him to have the window seat. He tries to climb over me. Laughing, John gently pushes him into the aisle so we can all stand and reverse our seating order. There’s a stir behind us. I catch snippets of people talking, nice things, and surprise in their voices. The man reaches into the cloth knapsack and pulls out a bundle of flat, amber sticks, offering the entire bundle to us. Convincing him no gift is necessary he shoves one at me. I plop it into my mouth like a lollipop. He snatches it out and over our laughter gets the point across to John that it’s meant to be boiled, maybe tea?

The flight ends. The stampede commences and we get separated but not before I see the gentleman is traveling only with the little cotton knapsack, the bundle of sticks projecting out the top. On the tarmac, John whispers “he’d never seen Western flatware; he didn’t know what to do with it – that’s why he didn’t eat.” I’m so moved by this man I begin looking for him.

Our last image is of his back walking into the night towards the taxi stand. He disappeared and we never knew why he was on the first flight of his life with not even a change of clothing. Had there been a death in his family? Was someone in the city ill? I’ve never forgotten this man but I commemorated him in my journal with this entry. “In the span of only a day I’ve gone from complaining of the lack of kindnesses we encountered during this trip to the slap-me-in-the-face reminder that the best kindnesses ARE THOSE YOU EXTEND TOWARDS OTHERS.” – Personal Journal Entry, April 20, 2008

About this week’s guest writer
tammie_closeup Tammie Dooley is a traveler, writer and photographer for whom the open road frequently summons. To her, adventurous solo road trips are a staple and a curiosity. Based in the U.S. Midwest, Tammie worked in the financial services industry for 18 years before embarking on a new life as a freelance writer and photographer. She keeps us all entertained via her blog, Solo Road Trip.

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13 Responses to “A world of inspiration: His First Flight”

  1. velvet 14/05/2009 10:31 pm

    Thank YOU Tammie for contributing this lovely piece and for your words of encouragement!


  2. Tammie Dooley 14/05/2009 10:28 pm

    Keith, I lack the words to convey how appreciative I am for your offer to put this story into print. Your generosity in sharing your website space so others can tell their “World of Inspiration” travel stories is inspiring in itself. Your selfless encouragement and support of other travel bloggers/writers is commendable. Keep doing what you’re doing and I believe great opportunities will come your way. — Tammie


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