A Plane Story: An HIV+ Veteran

Because of my job, I fly a lot. I get the chance to sit next to some interesting people, and some not so interesting people.

Every time I fly, I am reminded what lessons I learn and stories I hear, so I thought I would start sharing them here.

Volume 1, Person 1 – The HIV+ Veteran

His dark-rimmed glasses, skinny arms, and haberdasher hat catch my attention as I get situated into my seat and prepare for a long ride to the opposite coast.

I am being a typical millennial with headphones in my ear, and I am not in the mood to talk to anyone so nothing is playing in them. This is a decoy I use when I am in public and am looking to be an introvert!

I smile, and say “Hi” to the man, and he does the same back. We take off, and I take out my headphones because my introverted side can only last so long. We start talking, and after about five minutes of sharing things about our lives, it feels as though we have been old friends for 20 years even though I could be his grandson.

I learn about his time in Vietnam, his worldly travels and how he has lived the past 30 years infected with HIV.

We open up and talk about things like death, sex, drugs, life-partners, and most everything you wouldn’t talk to a stranger about (or your in-laws), but for some reason it feels right. To tell you the truth, it was refreshing to talk with someone who has been through so much and has such a positive outlook on life.

Here is a man who lives with one of the most stigmatized infections in the world, who has fought to protect our country, who has lived in more countries that I can count, and who has spent more time working than I have been alive. It makes me think, “How many other fascinating people like him are out there whom I will never meet?”

All of these people I judge before I meet them; yet – once I get to know them – I realize how much I could learn from them and how much we have in common. These people have so much advice, history, and story inside of them. So much opportunity to learn from and remind yourself that we are all human.

It was one of the most refreshing flights I have had in the past five years! We land and say our goodbyes! We exchange contact info, disembark, and he hops into a wheel chair.

“I will see you around, kid!” he says. Although our lives, ages, and professions are vastly different I believe we will meet again!

What stories, lessons, and history are you missing out on by not getting to know the stranger next to you? Anytime you fly it is up to a flip of a coin who will be seated next to you. It could be a kook, a cook, or even a crook; but, the rare times you find a gem like Jeremy makes it worth it.

Reach out to your fellow neighbor and get their story. Who knows what you will learn, what will wake up inside you, and what stories you will hear! As always…

P.S. Do you like the idea of a recurring article series called “A Plane Story” in which I share my stories of those people I sit next to on a plane? If so, let me know in the comments below!

Ryan Avery

Author Ryan Avery

Hi, my name is Ryan Avery! Every Sunday I share the "notes" I use to build my keynotes. They are personal stories and tangible strategies we can use to improve the way we communicate at work, at home and with ourselves.

More posts by Ryan Avery

Join the discussion 6 Comments

  • Victor Gascon says:

    Great story and great lessons. A recurring theme story would be a very nice feature. Peace!

  • Paula Howley says:

    I would love to hear recurring plane stories Ryan. There’s nothing more fascinating than humanity! Give it all to us, the good, the bad and the ugly. But focus on the good. I loved today’s story. Beautiful. Get a picture too, if you can. You could turn it into a book or a series of it’s own.

  • Curtis Yungen says:

    A very interesting post. I’d definitely like to see more on this theme!

  • Sonya Klassen says:

    please plan plane pieces periodically!!

    Lots of extraordinary people who are living extraordinary lives but quietly sit on the periphery. It would be lovely to hear their stories, too.

    Love reading your blogs! great insights and musings.

  • Donni says:

    A recurring article, “Plane Stories” would be great! I think my next speech is going to be about a recent experience on a plane – they make for an interesting cast of characters.

  • justin gobel says:

    Plain stories from an aeroplane seat, on a recurring basis, could be the basic jumping point for thermic running tale, while we follow your trail of the spoken word

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