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All of the Things We Cannot See

I was waiting at the gate to board a flight back to Phoenix. The announcement called for unaccompanied minors to board. A mother walked toward the gate with her arms wrapped tightly around her two young sons’ shoulders. I overheard as she reminded them to take care of each other, to be kind and to be polite. The boys walked onto the plane while their mother watched as long as she could, wiped her eyes and walked away from the gate alone.

When it was time for general boarding, I got on the plane and happened to be seated in the row behind the two boys. When a pregnant woman boarded a short time later, one of the boys stood and asked the woman if he could help with her bag. After takeoff, I heard the boys talking about how lucky they were to take this trip to visit their grandparents, knowing that their parents had worked to save money to pay for their flights. While the boys were drinking their orange juices, one offered the rest of his juice to his still-thirsty brother. When one couldn’t open his bag of peanuts, his brother helped him find the spot to tear the bag. When there was some turbulence, the older boy put his arm around his little brother to offer comfort.

I smiled, thinking of how the mother’s hopes for her boys had been realized during this flight.  

So much of what we do hinges on what happens in spaces between and beyond our influence. In our professional work, we help people build skills with the hope that someday in the future – when we aren’t there – they can manage their lives more effectively. In the same way, we nurture our children with the hope that they go out into the world and live the lessons and values we have attempted to instill. 

After deplaning in Phoenix, I found myself walking behind the boys and their grandmother, who had met them at the gate. With a big hug, she asked how their flight was. “Good,” they replied in unison. 

But I knew more. In that space, the boys had watched over each other. They had shown kindness and politeness toward strangers. All the things the mother had hoped for – all of the things she could not see.

Author: Alyssa Forcehimes, PhD

An expert in behavior change, substance use disorders and empathic communication, Dr. Alyssa Forcehimes serves as President of The Change Companies® and Train for Change Inc.® She lives in Arizona with her husband and two daughters.