‘Are these seats taken?’ He smiled kindly. ‘No, ma’am.’ His wrinkled hands are bruised. His bride, in a cable knit cardigan and white Keds, sits across the aisle. It’s a full flight.’

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“On a short flight from Atlanta to Baltimore, I am seated between my 9-year-old daughter and a gentleman of about 85, I’d guess. It’s a full flight, and as we boarded the plane, he was in the aisle seat with two empty seats between him and the window. Row 5 is as far forward as we could sit, so we asked if those two were taken. He smiled kindly and said, ‘no, ma’am.’ It’s rare to hear ‘ma’am’ these days, even in The Deep South. While completely unnecessary, it still feels like a kind and gentle way for him to reply.

He is sporting a golf shirt, khaki shorts, and a gray Adidas windbreaker. His wrinkled hands are bruised, as aged hands often are. And his bride, in a white cable knit cardigan and white Keds, sits across the aisle. I’d wondered if she belonged to him, as neither had exchanged a single pleasantry across the aisle, but when they both ordered 7-Up from the flight attendant, their union was confirmed.

He is tall – maybe six-foot-two or -three – and broad. His build reminds me of my husband’s – naturally wide and sort of athletic. Even at his age, it is clear that in his heyday, this fellow wasn’t one to pick on. The missus across the aisle talks at length with her seat mate, but the gentleman next to me is a man of few words.

At one point, my little one needed to get to the bathroom, so I tapped him on the shoulder to ask if she could scoot out past him. ‘Sure,’ he said, and he began to unbuckle his metal belt. It clanged as he struggled with the release, and after a solid 60 seconds, he was finally freed. Using both hands as props on the armrests, he heaved himself out of his seat and into the aisle while my curly haired girl bounced out from beside him smiling. He waited, standing in the aisle until she returned, as the whole ordeal of rising was likely too much to bother with again unnecessarily.

Later, as the pretzel box was passed around, we both took a couple. I opened one for my daughter as he fiddled with the slick, shiny wrapper. I couldn’t decide how quickly I should offer my help, but after a few seconds it was clear his violently shaking hands were not going to be able to open this bag. I lightly offered a hand, and he chuckled loudly. ‘These are not senior friendly,’ he says. I laughed, too, and gave him back his snack.

On one side, my daughter, who is young and vibrant and full of laughter and life. The whole world is before her. And on the other, a man who was once strong and stout and is facing the challenges of aging with grace and an incredibly kind demeanor.

I know nothing more about him – his name, the reason he is flying to Baltimore, his age, how long he has been married to the lovely lady beside him – absolutely nothing more about his character or his story. But his companionship on this flight reminds me to soak up the days and the memories and to take mental pictures at every opportunity. Days pass slowly for moms sometimes, but the years are flying by faster than the 737 I’m sitting on right now. The wonder of raising my babies does not escape me, and neither does the opportunity to love my husband’s strong and able body. The juxtaposition between the two beautiful humans on either side of me right now is striking, but both her youth and his age make me wildly appreciative of today.”

Courtesy of April Mashburn

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by April Mashburn of Georgia. It originally appeared on her blog. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.

Read about more chance encounters on flights:

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‘Were you in the military.’ I replied ‘yes.’ He said, ‘Afghanistan 2010?’ Surprised I slowly said, ‘yessss.’ He recognized me, my injuries, and my face. He never knew if I survived or not.’

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