There are times when I’m listening to people in this great big world of ours, and I can’t help but notice how careful we’ve all gotten.  How the explosive nature of the general public has pushed some people into the shadows and forced others to tread oh-so-gently when meeting someone new.

Hearing folks hold back, hush up, or dance around an issue isn’t just annoying anymore.

I’ve found it’s almost painful listening to someone walking on eggshells.

We’d finished our week visiting Barcelona and boarded the plane for our (oh-my-god-what-do-you-mean-it’s-eight-and-a-half-hours-long?!) flight home.  The kids were settling in, looking for something to watch on TV, and I was listening to the cacophony of voices finding their seats all around me.

True confession: I do tend to eavesdrop a bit.  It keeps things interesting.

There was a woman in the row ahead of me – let’s call her Jane.  There wasn’t anything particularly attention grabbing about her…dressed in comfortable travel gear and armed with mom tricks, she was with a small child and trying to keep him occupied until takeoff.  My interest level spiked, though, when a man approached the seat beside her son.

I listened to Jane tell the gentleman in their row that her spouse was up front and wanted to sit with her and their child.  She was wondering if he’d mind switching seats for the flight.

Not all that unusual, really.  I bet similar conversations were taking place in several parts of the plane, considering how seat assignments have been going lately.

You see, the compelling thing about Jane was this: I already knew it was her wife sitting at the front of the plane.  She’d been hanging back with her family, helping to get their son comfortably settled in, until she had to move to her assigned seat.  Like many people traveling together, they’d been separated by the powers that be when it came to the actual flight.

But unlike other couples negotiating assignments, it was clear that Jane was choosing her words extremely carefully while asking a stranger to switch seats.

I can’t say I was surprised by this.  A little sad maybe, but not surprised.  Because in this day of moral outrage and knee-jerk reactions you never know what kind of response you’ll get from somebody.  Like, say, a stranger on a plane.  Standing three feet from your child.  I can imagine you’d tread very gently indeed in that sort of situation.

As I listened to Jane tiptoe around pronouns while the man decided if he would switch seats as a favor to her, I couldn’t help but wonder…what would it be like not knowing at any given moment how people will react to your reality?  Whether they’ll accept, tolerate, or condemn your existence.  Whether you have the luxury to care.

“My wife would like to sit with us.”

Such a simple request to make.

And yet so very complicated.