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This week I spent a few days in a hotel while on business in another province, as the COVID-19 pandemic was hitting Canada. I’m reflecting on the human behaviours I noticed as I stayed in a deserted hotel and travelled on a mostly empty plane, anxious to get home.

The Pink Bangs

At the hotel, I was reminded of the power of kind words.

The hotel emptied out during my stay, and as the days went by the staff had more and more time to interact with me as I took my meals in the increasingly deserted dining room.

One of the youngest servers brought me my breakfast one morning looking distressed. She had a multicoloured bandana sitting awkwardly on her hair. She wasn’t particularly retro-bohemian styled otherwise, and it looked out of place. We recognized each other from my last stay at the hotel, and I decided to put her at ease and compliment her on the bold fashion accessory.

She opened up immediately and told me she was trying to hide a hair-colouring disaster and couldn’t think of any other solution. Her bangs had turned an odd shade of pink.

I said the bandana was sixties and fun, and also that pink hair was the latest craze in my part of Canada—my own hairdresser has gone from lilac to pink and then back to lilac recently. My server opened her eyes wide and something shifted in her posture. After she said goodbye that morning, I saw her stop in front of the mirror in the hallway and take another look.

The next day in the dining hall, the bandana was nowhere to be seen. The server rushed over to me to say that everyone was enjoying her pink bangs, and she thanked me for being the first one to compliment her.

It was such a small thing for me to say, yet the change in her confidence was palpable. Same hair, different attitude, leading to a very different reaction than she was expecting.

I haven’t always been kind, and I used to look at people’s attire, hair, or demeanour and tsk-tsk about their lack of taste or judgment. I am glad aging is making me more compassionate, and although it was eerie to be in such an empty hotel, I’m glad to have had a chance to share kind words with this young woman.

The Plane

On the plane, I was reminded of the power of kind deeds.

With the outbreak and closures all over Canada, many taking planes are taking them out of necessity. We are going home after some time in another city, where we were caught while each day brought more health measures and restrictions.

Most of the airports I travelled through were quite empty, and our humanity is being tested with each cough, sneeze, or sweaty face a few seats away.

I did my best to be kind to my fellow travellers and fought the urge to throw killer looks when someone coughed. After all, many of us were simply stranded trying to get from point A to point B, knowing we were at risk and trying to keep a safe distance from each other.

So I piped up as an elderly woman in a wheelchair was about to be wheeled outside to the plane without her coat on. The attendant then helped her get properly bundled to face the windy runway. A woman a few seats away then offered to watch my bag when I was getting up to go to the lavatory. Climbing the stairs to the plane, I automatically picked up the purse dropped at the foot of the plane by a middle-aged woman carrying too many bags and looking harried. She told me she was a nurse who had just completed long shifts and was going home to Ottawa to be with her elderly mom.

Before takeoff, the nurse asked the attendant to sit her next to the elderly woman whose coat I had asked the flight attendant to put on. The woman has started to show signs of agitation and the nurse was ready to soothe and tend to her. Across the aisle from them was a young graduate from pilot school who offered his hand sanitizer so the elderly woman would have more protection.

I thought to myself, this is what humans are meant to do and how we are meant to be with each other.

Now, it was a different scene when I landed in Ottawa, where merry travellers were greeting their families with hugs and kisses and not seeming at all concerned about what they may have brought home with them. But the scene on my mostly empty flight gave me hope that prudence and kindness will see us through. As we get used to the idea of social distancing and connecting online versus in-person meetings or water-cooler chats, I encourage you to leave a comment or send me a private message about your stories of kindness during this unforeseen time.

I wish you all stay safe, healthy, and may our better instincts rise to the occasion during this pandemic!