Yesterday was the most inspiring and emotionally fulfilling day I've ever had. I witnessed the most beautiful acts of humanity and even though the world can seem like a dark, heartless, and scary place right now, I felt the need to let you know, we're still ok. I was working the Rock N Roll Marathon in Washington D.C. and these are always uplifting. This is the third marathon I've worked and I've participated in both a half and full myself. It's incredible to be in a space where so many people are crushing their goals, completing bucket lists, and pushing themselves to their limits. As our work day was winding down (meaning the race was finishing up) I looked over and saw that it was empty in the stands. The hardcore runners were long gone and the excitement of the day was over. I decided to go cheer on the last few runners and let me tell you, that's where it's at! These aren't the people who are on their 13th race, or trying to win money, or even trying to beat their personal best. These are the ones who are hurting, emotional and just grateful to be completing the race. The first woman that ran by had her hands in the air praising God and tears running down her face. The man after that was dancing and smiling ear to ear. And the mother who came limping around the final bend suddenly has a burst of energy and emotion when her entire family came running into the street and her kids wrapped their arms around her waist and together they crossed the finish line. It was such a wonderful feeling to witness such a special moment in these peoples lives. If you ever need a boost of happiness, motivation, and inspiration, find a marathon and cheer on the last few runners!
The same day, I was flying back to Los Angeles. I got on board and sat in the window seat in the third row. Having been up since 3am I was looking forward to sleeping through the 5 hour flight. About an hour in, the lights came on and a man stood up to make an announcement, his name was Rex. He was not a flight attendant so my first thought was PROPOSAL! Then he began talking about his sister LouAnn who was a year and a half younger than him and a flight attendant for Southwest for 32 years. So then I started thinking the crying girl next to him was LouAnn and we were about to sing happy birthday to her. Then he continues to tell us LouAnn was recently diagnosed with an aggressive form of stage 5 pancreatic cancer and given 5 weeks to live. He was flying back to see her for the last week. He told us about how she was a Denver Bronco cheerleader and loved her job with Southwest more than anything in the world. He asked us (if we wanted to) to write something nice on the drink napkins that were being passed around about either her or the airline that she loved working for so much and told us he planned on reading them all to her.
Of course we were all in tears and glad to do what we could. He sat across the aisle from me and spent the next couple of hours talking about LouAnn and sharing photos of her over the years with the people next to me. I watched as people brought up colorings, hand-drawn bouquet's of flowers, stacks and stacks of napkins with words of encouragement and strength, a bouquet of bev nap flowers and even a scarf that a woman made during the flight. The touching acts of humanity were incredible.
What's more, his openness and willingness to share his story somehow connected people on the flight. Everyone began telling each other stories of their own about families, careers, faith, you name it! The women next to me started telling me about how when her mom died she was so angry with God and stopped believing and was praying for help the day of this flight. The man next to her, and across from Rex, was a Reverend who was so willing to listen to everyone's stories. People shared with Rex their stories about cancer and sent prayers his way. It showed how much people yearned for connection and understanding. Suddenly instead of a quiet five hour flight where everyone either sleeps or stares straight ahead, it was a community talking and helping people through each others hurts.
When we landed, Rex was taking pictures of each person who'd given him something specific to show his sister and everyone was hugging him and thanking him for his openness. People were sending each other photos that they'd taken and exchanging cards to stay in touch. Rex gave each of us a plastic set of Southwest winds and thank you cards.
While his story will most likely have a sad ending, the ripple effect of his kindness and love for his sister will continue through the people on board that flight. When politics, race, religion and the world in general are pitting us against one another, I will always look back on this moment to remember that people are inherently good and just yearning to feel connection and love. This surreal experience was a beautiful and tragic reminder of the good in the world to hold on to. So hug your loved ones, be kind, and practice gratitude today, tomorrow, and always.