Love notices the unnoticeable.
Love calls us by name.
Why noticing makes all the difference.
Last summer, I was in the midst of a busy travel season, speaking at different conferences and churches. The good old pre-COVID days! It’s always humbling and exciting to share in front of larger crowds, but it can also be incredibly lonely. You’re away from your family, and once the line of people asking to talk with you leaves, you often end up sitting in a coffee shop or hotel room by yourself. There’s only so much Fixer Upper you can watch!
So, one day I found myself alone on yet another plane. As I reached my seat near the rear of the plane, I watched as people shoved their massive pieces of luggage into the tiny overhead bins. The introverts around me were putting on their headphones as quickly as possible, attempting to avoid the extroverts (like me), who were thinking about how to strike up a “you’re-trapped-with me-now” conversation with the person next to them.
As all this was going on, the flight attendant began to tell us what to do if the plane crash-landed in water. I’ve heard these plenty of times. But there was something different this time, because I could tell the flight attendant, a middle-aged woman, was nervous. As she shared the instructions and safety procedures, her voice began to shake. She stuttered and had to repeat herself multiple times, clearly fumbling to make it through the words.
The whole safety tutorial took longer than it should have. The passengers around me began to get impatient and annoyed, a few even murmuring under their breath. Making it through the crash-in-water spiel on a normal flight is tedious enough without the addition of having to maintain patience as the person delivering the instructions struggles to read the script. However, since I remember struggling to read my own script (also known as a sermon) when I was a new pastor, I always have a soft spot for those who stumble while speaking in public. It’s not as easy as it looks, folks!
So as the flight attendant continued—with her voice shaking—I couldn’t help but notice her. Not the words she was saying, but the person she was. Typically, I tune out during the safety check (to attempt to talk with the unsuspecting introverts next to me), but this lady’s kindness and authenticity were impossible to miss, and I couldn’t help but want to listen. I felt like she truly cared that we heard her instructions. That she wanted us to know what she was sharing. I also hoped that my attentiveness would help to ease her anxiety, since most of the other passengers were giving off the clear vibe that they wanted her to wrap things up quickly.
When she finally finished her talk, she looked visibly relieved to be done. She put the phone receiver down at the front of the plane and took a breath that I could see from where I was sitting near the back.
A few minutes later, as she was quickly passing through the cabin to offer pretzels to the passengers, I gently stopped her and thanked her for sharing the safety procedures.
“You did a wonderful job, Shirley,” I said, reading her nametag.
Tears appeared at the corner of her eyes, and she thanked me for the kind words. “It was my first time sharing the preflight instructions on this specific kind of plane. I was so nervous and felt really stupid,” she said.
“Well, you did great. It’s the first time I’ve actually listened in months. And as you shared, I could tell you’re a wonderful person.”
She gave me a heartfelt thank-you and continued on with her pretzel handouts.
For the remainder of the flight, I was offered more pretzels and drinks than I could count. Shirley served me in a way no flight attendant had ever served me before. She came back repeatedly to ask if I needed anything else. Checked in on me. Offered to grab whatever I needed. Let me know which gate my next flight was at even though I wasn’t in a hurry.
All because I had noticed her.
I noticed she was nervous.
I noticed she felt foolish.
I noticed she was kind.
I noticed she needed an encouraging word.
I noticed that she was a person with a name, not just a talking head at the front of a plane.
I don’t know her story, but I began to wonder what made her become a flight attendant at an older age. Maybe it was a job she’d always wanted. But maybe she had recently been through a trial. A divorce? Did she lose a job? Maybe she lost her spouse? Moved to a new city?
I’m thirty-eight, and with each year that passes, change becomes a little scarier. Was she scared? Was this a fresh start for her? Maybe she wondered if a new beginning was even possible? I didn’t know. But I noticed her, and in turn she noticed me.
I wanted her to know: I see you’re a person. I notice you. I call you by name.
What if we started to notice the people right in front of us? At the job we already have? On the blocks where we already live? At the coffee shop we embarrassingly visit multiple times a day (or maybe that’s just me)?
It might just change the world.
Think about the college or high school student who feels like giving up. What if you noticed him, encouraged him, and told him he’ll make it through all the homework and stress and go on to do great things?
Think about the person who never smiles, who might be depressed, or who’s maybe thinking about killing herself. What if you noticed her and helped her realize that she has a friend, is wanted, and is loved?
Love notices people. It slows down and sees people, particularly the person others overlook.
Love takes time out of its busy schedule to smile, to say hi. It holds the door open for people.
Love notices when someone’s having a bad day and asks, “How are you doing, really?” It looks people in the eye and communicates the message you have my attention and focus. Love calls people by name. It hurts when someone is hurting and celebrates when someone is celebrating. It sets aside one’s own agenda and puts another person’s agenda first.
When we landed at the airport and people started to get off the plane, I looked for Shirley. She was standing near the door and telling people to have a great day as they were shuffling off. When I reached her, I told her to have a lovely day and thanked her again for her kindness. With tears in her eyes, she said the same to me.
It’s amazing what noticing someone will do. Two strangers amongst a hundred or so other people were no longer strangers. Two people felt noticed. Two people—Shirley and I—felt loved.
Love notices people. It calls them by name.