I was on a flight from Santa Rosa last week and had the opportunity to sit next to an interesting man. And while I learned quite a good deal from him, our encounter had an auspicious beginning.
Trying to make best use of my time on the flight to keep up with the usual hectic business day, I went to launch my computer to get some work done. However, I couldn’t log onto the in-flight Wi-Fi, no matter what I tried. After multiple attempts and possibly a little frustration on my part, the man sitting next to me, David, looked up at me and said, “Can’t live without it for an hour, huh?”
I can’t lie – initially I was a taken aback by his comment. I was actually about to tell him to mind his own business.
But instead, I thought why not try something novel and play along. So, I responded, “Yeah if I don’t work on things in the air now, there will be so much more to catch up on when I land.”
“I’m sure an hour won’t kill anyone,” David said. “And after all, it’s 5 pm right now.”
So, I closed my laptop and engaged further, asking him “So, what do you do?”
“I’m a retired USC computer science professor,” David told me.
For the next hour I learned that he did his undergrad work at UCLA before earning his grad degree and doctorate at USC.
He was now flying back with his wife and grandson to have him for the weekend in Manhattan Beach.
Pretty quickly, I had forgotten my Wi-Fi frustrations, my laptop, and work. We delved deeper into conversation.
David’s father had been “tough,” and that sounded like a vast understatement. His father was a holocaust survivor who resettled in Brooklyn and was hard on his kids.
David “grew up” Jewish and had one son and a grandson. His son had just moved to Santa Rosa to be a gentleman farmer after previously living in Inglewood in the house he grew up in. David had bought the house in 1974 for only $52,000.
I shared with him that I had two children, and their ages, to which he responded that I was an old father! Too true, and I really appreciated his blunt candor by that point.
What happened next for me was what made the meeting golden.
I asked David what he thought about the recent college admissions scandal, which was hot in the news. Oh boy, he certainly had a position!
I mentioned that I felt for the kids, who didn’t truly know what was going on and happening.
David turned to me and said, “If anyone thinks those kids didn’t know what was going on and knew that it was wrong, then they’re kidding themselves. Kids know more then we give them credit for.”
I nodded my head.
“What we should be worried about is what they have now learned and what it may have cost them – their future and ours.”
He went on. “Not just the academics, but about responsibility and doing what is right and making the right decisions.”
I thought about what he said. I thought about how I would have handled the same situation.
Would I have done whatever it takes to give my children a step up?
Yes, I would probably. If I’m being honest. And probably still would.
I also think we all make decisions because we are product of our environment – and the environment that we grew up in; good and bad; healthy or traumatic.
We still learn the most from those around us and closest to us.
But the lesson for me was more in the discussion.
David illuminated the path of thought for me that all of our decisions and actions have a cause and effect. ALL of them, no matter what our intentions or wishes.
Therefore, we all need to be careful what we build in life, brick by brick, day by day, decision by decision.
We’re all building something, whether it be the people in our lives, our kids, our communities, or the businesses we own and work in. The decision that I made that afternoon – to take the time and learn about David and his family as well as his outlook in life – would not have happened had I chosen to text message, Facebook, or email for that hour.
Really what is the point anyway? It can all wait. And there is no greater opportunity to know our fellow man or women that much better, and therefore know ourselves more honestly, too.
Thank you, David – I just maybe became a little bit better version of myself for sitting next to you on the plane.