Our Differences

I am sometimes confounded by the obvious differences in people’s behaviour. I don’t expect us to all react the same in certain situations or even behave in a manner that is reflective of our similarities, but … I am a people watcher and what better time to watch people than in an airport waiting to cross this far-too-big country. I flew direct from Halifax to Vancouver, a rare opportunity in terms of flights, to spend time with my grandson and my daughter. I took car, airplane, train, and two buses to get from A to B, which provided ample opportunity to observe human behaviour.

We all have moments of courage and moments of fear, moments of feeling inept and moments of confidence, moments though fleeting of when we understand this conundrum called life and moments when none of it makes sense. We tend to agonize more over our flaws and blunders than celebrate our strengths and successes. There are moments we are in awe of the magic of nature and its wonder yet participate in its destruction. We are often a contradiction and I suspect that is the very nature of being human; we don’t always get it right.

I was buying a coffee in the Halifax airport, money ready in my hand, practising my order in my head while I stood in the long line. The woman ahead of me got to the counter and then began to deliberate over what she wanted. This confused me. What was she doing the entire time we were standing there. She paid for her order with coins, wanting to rid her wallet of the load and weight. She counted out quarters and dimes and nickels while the server looked anxious. Was she unaware of the line-up behind her, those individuals who had crawled from their beds incredibly early to stand in line so we can prove we don’t have a supply of explosives in our shoes or behind our left ear. Or did she simply think that her needs exceeded her concern for the inconvenience of others. When it was my turn, I quickly stated my order and had cash in my hand. I did not stand and find space in my wallet for the change; I immediately moved out of the way. I don’t deserve the Order of Canada for this behaviour, or even a nod of approval. The inconvenience of others far outweighs my needs to the point of the ridiculous and it is so hard-wired in my DNA that I don’t know how else to behave. The difference puzzles me, and I can’t help wondering about the root of this.

I have followed people into buildings where most turn to see if anyone is on their heels for whom they can hold the door, but I have also been witness to those who merely open the door for themselves and enter without a single glance behind them. I’m not annoyed by this as I am quite capable of opening a door and have been doing so for several decades, but when someone holds a door for me, I feel joy, I feel visible, I feel grateful. I cannot open a door without looking behind me.

A very tall man was sitting in the seat across from me and one row up as we readied for take-off in Halifax. The woman in front of him reclined her seat at the beginning of the flight and five hours and forty-eight minutes later she raised it to its upright position. This man’s legs were long, his torso broad and he could hardly eat his meal comfortably due to the reclined seat in front of him. I never recline my seat. Not ever. Not because I’m some hero, but because why would my comfort ever be more important than the comfort of the individual sitting behind me. When this man got up to use the washroom, he had to employ his contortion skills to maneuver in and out of the seat. I was indignant on his behalf, while the woman seemed completely oblivious, not giving her seat position a second thought. We pay for that comfort, some would say, the price included in our ticket, with the understanding those are the conditions of air travel. But I would remind her that when those reclining seats were put in service, the distance between the rows was significantly greater.

Someone once told me when I was very young that just because someone throws you a ball doesn’t mean you have to catch it. I never understood the meaning at the time or the context in which the advice was shared. I’m not sure I have learned how not to catch a ball tossed at me. I don’t have the personality to watch the ball fall at my feet and carry on with my day. Though the difference in those opposing behaviours puzzles me, I’m okay with being me. Besides, this is who I am stuck with, and I made friends with me not so long ago.