Unequivocally Ambiguous

Humorous Stories on Parenting, Culture and Life

The Scariest, Most Turbulent Flight I’ve Ever Been On

by | Apr 11, 2024 | Travel | 0 comments

The Pandemic and the fleeting popularity of compassion

Before the second peak of the pandemic, I flew back to the Bay Area, and I sat next to a woman with a terrible and persistent wet cough.

I pressed the service button, and when the flight attendant came up, I politely asked her, “Would you be so kind as to shoot the woman?”

Apparently, we still have laws against that.

My wife and I had decided to visit our family in San Diego when things were opening up after the vaccine became available. I thought I knew what I was getting into, but that woman’s cough shattered that belief.

You see, as a Latino, my sense of personal space is limited — almost nonexistent.

Take Governor Andrew Cuomo, for example. When he said, “I’m not a pervert, I’m Berlusconi…” Sorry, I mean, he said, “I’m not a pervert, I’m Italian,” true story.

And I understood what he meant.

It doesn’t apply to Cuomo, though, as all the evidence pointed to him being a creep. But there is truth in what he is trying to twist: the sense of personal space is different across cultures.

I had almost no sense of it before the pandemic.

But it changed.

During the pandemic, I had a personal bubble. When people burst it, I pretended to cough under my mask, and I elicited never-before-witnessed decency. Everyone around me ran for cover.

Things are a bit different on planes. The airline industry violates our personal bubbles, and we accept it because it is more convenient to fly than to embark on the Oregon Trail.

When our flight back to the Bay took off, it immediately hit small pockets of storms.

The turbulence was scary.

Until I realized it wasn’t turbulence but this woman hacking her lungs out.

Then, the ‘turbulence’ became horrifying.

As I stew in my anger, I compulsively asked myself, “How come no one checked this woman’s temperature at the very least?” Her skin pallor was gray, and she was sweaty and clammy.

Apparently, as long as you have a ticket and a pulse, you can board your flight and die on it.

I wasn’t the only one having these thoughts, as with every cough, I could hear the grunts of indignation from the passengers around us. I wondered if anyone brought a pitchfork as a carry-on.

My wife asked me in whispers, “What are we supposed to do?” And in an unprecedented moment of clarity for me, I tell her, “Maybe we can have some compassion?”

Of course, I didn’t tell my wife the rest of what I was thinking, “It doesn’t matter what we do. We are on a plane. We got whatever she’s got. We are dying of this.”

Then I realized I was angry because I was afraid, and the response I blurted out was the one that stuck with me. What a weird concept to think about in the middle of the pandemic: compassion.

Compassion was a forgotten memory of my upbringing.

When my parents divorced, my dad threw himself into religion and became a born-again Christian. Because my dad threw himself into religion, my mom had to throw herself into work because, believe it or not, god doesn’t give you a cut of the tithe for praying extra hard — unless you are a televangelist, which my dad isn’t.

My mom remained a Catholic because it is the most productive path to salvation since it is the religion that requires the least amount of effort. Monday through Saturday, everything is fair game; come Sunday, everything will be forgiven if you reveal your darkest and juiciest secrets to your priest. You start Monday with a clean slate and a slightly bruised chest — mea culpa, mea culpa, mea máxima culpa! But with a clean slate nonetheless.

From being dragged between religions, I remember how most of the stories seemed to have the same theme: to be nice to others in their moment of hardship.

Before the pandemic, it was very in vogue to be compassionate; it was as if hipsters and spiritual gangsters were finally gentrifying it. We were finally able to incorporate it into our fabulous self-care routine along with other small actions like smelling lavender oil, using crystals, and tripping on expensive and hard-to-pronounce mushrooms.

Once we were presented with a genuinely difficult time, all bets were off, and it seemed like, as a society, we couldn’t get it together. Sadly, high-waisted shorts seemed to have a longer shelf-life than compassion.

By the time the flight landed, I was still afraid, but I was no longer angry.

It made me sad to know that I saw this woman sick next to me, and my natural impulse was to run her out of the plane as if she was Frankenstein’s monster and I was an angry villager.

But that woman was still a human being. A human being in pain. Maybe she had a father and a mother who would worry about her in her time of sickness. Maybe she had kids that would mourn her loss if she did have Covid and die from it.

Anger was replaced by a genuine wish for that woman to get better.

Because of the pandemic, I might always keep strangers at a distance that, according to Governor Cuomo, Italians will never understand. “Non lo capisco!”

I just hope I can retain that space I felt at the end of my flight.

The space where, even if momentarily, compassion lived in my heart.

Subscribe to my newsletter, Unequivocally Ambiguous!

(Often Humorous, Always Brilliant, Of Course!) Stories on Culture, Relationships and Travel


Leave a Reply

Recent Articles

Discover more from Unequivocally Ambiguous

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading