"When you begin to see that your enemy is suffering, that is the beginning of insight."
-- Thích Nhất Hạnh
I was already seated when the man and woman came down the airplane aisle and sat directly behind me in the exit row. The man was large, heavily tattooed and was cussing loudly and profusely and saying things like "I just want to punch someone in the face." My first thought was, "What an asshole." But then it occurred to me that this man must be in great inner pain. The outward belligerence was a sign of inward suffering.
As the plane prepared to pull away from the gate a flight attendant walked by and informed the man that he needed to slide his bag fully under the seat. He began to mock and berate her, but she would have none of it. She explained--calmly and firmly as if speaking to a child--that he was seated in an exit row and for the safety of all the other passengers the pathway to the emergency exit needed to be kept clear and if he had a problem with that he could be moved to another seat or removed from the airplane. The man didn't answer, but the woman with him did: "I'm sorry," she explained, "he just learned that his nephew died." The flight attendant expressed sincere condolence but also reiterated that the rules had to be followed. The man was quieter for the rest of the flight, only occasionally eliciting a whispered "Fuck!" I didn't mind. My thoughts had transformed from annoyance to lovingkindness and I tried to keep him in prayer for the remainder of our journey together.