This I Believe: An Essay from Brandis Henderson

“Switching Seats”

I believe in putting other’s needs in front of mine.

Brandis Henderson is a freshman from Redding, California. She wrote her "This I Believe" essay for Karen Sheriff LeVan's college writing class.

About a year ago on my twelfth flight out of Montreal, Quebec airport I sat waiting to board a six-hour flight to Redding, California.  As I observed all the people around me, I noticed two squirming children seated side by side. The girl appeared to be three years old and the boy couldn’t have been more then six. The laughter brought on by their creative games carried over to me with the talk of fairies and dragons not far behind. Next to them sat their mother. She looked to be on the brink of exhaustion and in desperate need of a nap, but that wouldn’t be possible traveling with two small children. I was admiring her when a loud gate announcement let me know it was time to board the flight.

Once settled into my seat, I noticed three seats down from me, across the aisle a middle-aged businessman sitting next to the mother and her brown-headed daughter. Her son was seated about two rows behind me. Glancing back at him, I saw his face begin to scrunch up, his eyebrows meeting together as tears began to well up behind his wire-framed glasses. With a soft voice the mother asked the businessman, “Would you be willing to switch seats with my son?” With an annoyed sigh he ran his hands down his black business suit, then turned to her. “No, this is my seat.”

The mother seemed flustered, because all she wanted was for her family to sit together, especially because her children were so young.  Seeing the businessman’s response, I offered my seat, knowing that while there were still three seats between them, it would mean the young boy and mother were only a glance away. With pure gratitude pouring from her she accepted my offer and we swapped seats. The boy smiled and gave a small “Thank you” as he looked at his mother sleepily.

Working with small children I have often observed how important a small gesture of kindness can be. While working in a preschool I learned that those kindnesses turned into trust between the children and adults. From their experiences kids grow into respectful adults who value those around them. As a child I experienced these kindnesses as well.

That’s why I believe in switching seats.

I’ve experienced this situation over and over again, and each time I try to offer my seat if I am seated in the same area. I try to process why a person would not switch seats.  I’ve thought, “Well, they’re already settled into their seat and comfortable,” or maybe they were thinking, “I paid for this seat.” Who knows what goes through people’s heads but I sure know what goes through mine! I know that it’s just not the mothers who are struggling, but also those who travel for medical treatment, people with special needs, elderly, or even tall people that get put in the most uncomfortable seats.

My heart breaks to see a person unwilling to switch seats with a child. Switching is not giving up your seat entirely or having to wait for another flight, it’s simply just trading places with someone. I am confused why something so easy and risk-free isn’t given more easily.

I believe that being willing and ready to trade seats is substantial. I want to continue to be open to others’ requests and help them meet their needs. It only takes few seconds of courage and one deep breath that could create a moment of positive change in the world. That could mean standing up for someone. Or, just simply switching seats.

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