I was working the last flight of a twelve-hour shift when I spotted an older Hispanic gentleman heading down the airplane aisle looking perplexed. I’d spied this confused expression countless times from those not familiar with our unassigned seating policy.
“Any open seat is yours,” I told him.
He cocked his head, clearly still confused.
“Cualquier asiento.” I ventured in my best Spanglish.
He lifted his tan cowboy hat and smiled shyly, illuminating golden flecks in his hazel eyes. He wore Wrangler jeans adorned by a turquoise belt buckle with crisp seams down the front, a red and white-checkered dress shirt, and cowboy boots that matched his hat. Unlike most passengers, cramming baggage into every compartment, he carried only yellow roses.
He chose a window seat, and throughout the two-hour flight those roses remained securely in his grasp. Technically, I should have asked him to stow them under his seat for takeoff and landing but envisioning some lucky recipient waiting for flowers handled with such care — well, I just couldn’t. I gave his language another whirl, offering him a beverage and later a snack. He politely declined both, focusing solely on his precious cargo.
Upon our arrival, while the others pressed toward the exit, he remained seated. Anxious to get to our layover hotel, my crew motioned for me to inspire his departure. Approaching him from behind, I noticed he was struggling to pull a single stem from his bouquet. A blood droplet appeared where a thorn had nipped his thumb. Before I could open my mouth, he removed his hat and looked up with a sincerity that made my heart feel too big for my chest.
“Gracias por su amabilidad,” he said, handing me the flower.
He was thanking me for my kindness? I swallowed. Hard. This gentleman, whose only carry-on consisted of a gift for another, was taking his precious time to acknowledge me?
How is it that those who seem to have the least so often give the most?
I carried that rose throughout the rest of my trip, savoring its sweet fragrance and keeping the petals after they dropped. I store them in my jewelry box so I’ll never forget that life’s true treasures come from those persons whose kindness enriches one’s heart more than any material good ever could.