From the moment she entered the jet, I could tell she did not want to be there. In addition to apologizing each time her overloaded "Big Brown Bag" banged someone in an aisle seat, she was having difficulty navigating her excessive size down the skeletal-sized aisle.
I knew the other passengers were thinking, "I hope she doesn't sit next to me." Plane seats are not known for roominess, and having someone else's bulk overspill into one's limited area was not something for which anyone eagerly plunked down a few hundred dollars.
My overweight past flooded to my forethought and I remembered being the recipient of "that look" in the other passengers' eyes when I used to enter an airplane. I avoided eye contact; my method of signaling to each traveler, "Don't worry. You're safe. I'm not sitting next to you."
Finally, I would locate my seat (God forbid it was a center seat). I'd smile and meekly point to the location into which I was supposed to compress. My neighbor would smile weakly, rise, and let me pass. After I settled in, he would reclaim his territory and - although he would usually try to hide it - I would notice a subtle, but definite, slight tilt in the opposite direction from me; trying to retain as much space as possible for himself.
All of those memories swamped my consciousness now and I knew what this woman walking the aisle was experiencing in this moment.
As embarrassed as I am to admit it, I felt ashamed because - despite my empathy - I too was hoping her seat assignment would not be next to mine. Realizing with horror what I was thinking, I wanted to spare her "the look" coming from one who had been there, so I pulled up the airline magazine and pretended to be engrossed with two Smiling Solar Tiki Garden Torches that will "light up my corner of paradise."
Eventually she dropped her heft into the seat across the aisle, and shyly lifted her hand to signal the attendant. I also understood that motion; it was code for "I need a seatbelt extension," one more humiliation in an already degrading experience.
"Uncomfortable" would not be a word that even came close to describing the pained expression etched on her face after she was finally able to lift her midsection and insert the tab into the buckle. She was sweating from the exertion of what, to most, is a simple task. Her efforts to normalize her breathing were complicated by the tightness of the belt, the metal stabbing arms of the seat on either side, and, of course, the infamous lack of legroom - made even worse by the baggage she could barely insert under the seat in front of her. It was beyond obvious that she would rather be anywhere but in that spot at that time in this moment.
I really know nothing about the lady on the plane; possibly she was already down several pounds on a diet - or she wasn't. I cannot know; more importantly, it is not my job to judge. But, what I cannot deny is watching her made my heart hurt because it brought back my own experiences. That's an important reminder.
Sometimes, in the effort to improve, I think we get sidetracked, complaining about the effort. "It's too hard." "It'll take too long." We lament the process instead of celebrate our growing freedoms.
Watching her try to relax on a noisy, overcrowded, restrictive airplane in a cramped seat with an overstretched seat belt strangling her midsection reminded me how much better I feel when I take care of myself. Sure, it takes work. Yes, it can be uncomfortable. But, it's a heck of a lot less uncomfortable than doing nothing.