Good Life

Healthy Relationships | A kind word is the greatest gift

Like virtually everyone else in the country who was attempting to travel by air this Thanksgiving, I experienced the “trip from hell.” Delayed and canceled flights, an overnight without luggage and nothing but airport restaurant food for 24 hours all culminated in a three-hour drive back to State College from Pittsburgh and the return of the one-way rental car (at our expense, of course), and contributed to the stress.

About midway through the craziness, however, I had an epiphany. As the van carrying us and other weary travelers pulled into the driveway of the hotel where we were spending the luggage-less night, the driver began to tell us what the procedure would be to return to the airport the next day. Her voice was soft, and it was clear that she was tired from a long day spent driving disgruntled passengers back and forth between the airport and hotel.

As she finished speaking, one of the van passengers began to berate her for what she was saying and for not speaking more loudly.

It was nasty, rude and totally uncalled for, and it came from that place of frustration and exhaustion that all of us were feeling. Appalled, several of us thanked the driver as we were disembarking and apologized for the mean passenger’s behavior.

It was over in a moment, but I couldn’t stop thinking to myself, “I know that place of frustration and exhaustion. I know what it feels like to be so stuck. And I’ve been in places and circumstances where I have been as hateful as my fellow passenger to those around me. I really don’t want to be that person again.”

That epiphany — that I have been and have the potential to be as nasty as the man on the van and I don’t want to be that way again — shaped the rest of my travel experience and put it in perspective. Having heard the impact of the nasty man’s words, I worked hard to be pleasant to those I encountered the next day in the airport, people who were trying to do their jobs in very difficult circumstances, trying to get people where they needed to be, trying to provide good customer service in the midst of chaos over which they had no control.

I was helped in my determination to face the travel nightmare with equanimity by supportive and funny text and Facebook messages from my children and by holding on to what was good around me.

I was warm and safe, got to spend an extra day with my husband, was returning from a lovely trip and was, eventually, going home. All in all, things could have been a lot worse.

As the holidays approach and I get caught up in the frantic frenzy that seems so much a part of this month, I hope I can focus on simple courtesy to those I encounter. I want to remember the gift that a kind word, rather than a harsh one, can be for someone who is struggling in ways we may never know.

In the immortal words of M*A*S*H character Frank Burns, “It’s nice to be nice to the nice,” but it is also nice to be nice to the grumpy and exhausted, the frustrated and annoyed, and perhaps they are more in need of it.

Healthy relationships encompass those dear to us, our family and friends, to be sure.

But perhaps this holiday season we can extend those healthy relationships to those whose lives we barely and only tangentially touch. Their lives will be made brighter by it, and ours will, too.