Yesterday ended the Public family’s epic month of vacationing, and we now look ahead to 3rd grade starting in a few days for JPG and pre-K for JPS a few weeks further. As we were getting settled on the plane which was to rend us from Salk Lake City, and as we were just tasting the first bitter notes of acceptance that travel season was indeed over, something unexpected and very nice happened: the woman who was to take the seat to my right extended her hand and introduced herself, “I’m Nancy.”

I’ve made small talk on airplanes over the years, and I’ve done my fair share of burying my nose in a book, but I’ve never been so directly and pleasantly addressed by the person who was to spend the duration just inches away from me. I would have bet money that any chit-chat with my fellow passengers would have begun with a bemoaning of the summer heat. “I’m Nancy,” with an extended hand, is a reminder that in all things simple directness is not only the easy way, but the most effective.

She was very nice. In fact, I recognized her from our flight four days prior to Salt Lake from Denver, the inverse of the journey at hand. I didn’t remember the tall, suited 19-year-old young man seated in front of her, Nancy’s second oldest son, whom she had been escorting from Minneapolis to Salt Lake for his mission (or mish, as those of us who have spent the last 1.6 decades in close contact with Utah and their famed religion sometimes call it) to the Philippines. As we talked, we learned that her son and my near-4-year-old son both have hearing loss of different kinds: her son has eustachian tube issues that have left his ear drums perforated–something they are hoping to correct after he returns in two years–and JPS has neurological hearing loss, which cannot be corrected surgically but has been very effectively treated, so far, with an excellent pair of cute little green hearing aids and a few incredible speech therapists.

She talked some about raising 6 kids–all boys but the youngest–and I talked about being an artist and stay-home parent. I had accidentally brought my five most recent paintings on paper to Utah in my large sketchbook, so I pulled them out and did a little show and tell. It was fun. This is the kind of thing I live for. Meeting a kind stranger, talking a little, and, as the icing on the social cake, showing some artwork. I like to think that showing one’s artwork to strangers is a good thing, because most people seem not to have much contact with art or the makers of it. But, what was so nice about the whole experience is that the 90 minutes we spent next to each other were so warmly colored by the way she initiated it.

It’s so easy to despair about the state of humanity; every day offers too much evidence that we humans are a sorry lot. In fact, two nights before the flight, we were playing a game at my brother- and sister-in-law’s house, and to the question, “Which animal/insect do you find most disgusting?” I answered, “Humans.” It was for laughs, but there was some truth to it, too. One of the things I hope to get from Facelife is a counter to that tendency to see the worst in people. We’re complicated, full of goodness and badness, and I think that if you seek the good in people you’ll find it. I’m hoping to.

As you know, it’s still terribly hot, so I have yet to knock on my first door of the Facelife campaign. But, what a timely and inspiring moment I had on that flight! Being on the receiving end of what I’m setting out to do, and being greeted by someone in such an open manner, have gotten me more excited about meeting lots of strangers. If I can pull it off like Nancy did, it will turn out to be a simple task.

And, I should mention, as we talked on the plane, I regretted my answer to that disgusting animal question. I should have said bagworms.


  1. Funny how something so simple as a mere two words, when delivered by the right person and received by the right pair of ears at just the right time, can blossom into something so much more profound than two simple words – perhaps even into a hidden intersection on the road of life! Yes, Jim, this is the beauty of humanity.

    Actually, I’m now rethinking your name badge plans. Maybe the power of your spoken words during your door-to-door introduction endeavors could be cheapened by such unnecessary “bling.” Afterall, if Nancy had been wearing a name badge on your 1st flight with her, then the impact of her direct introduction on the flight back could have been compromised by your natural tendency to think, “Yeah, I noticed.”

    Have you considered maybe wearing a T-shirt displaying representations of your work, or perhaps a JP logo? I might consider that more appealing and, thus, more effective than a name badge. You could use a T-shirt, and A-shirt, a V-shirt…anything but a wife-beater. 😉

    1. This is true, Tracy. And it seems easier for some people to strike up a conversation with a stranger when you’re on a plane, with a guaranteed beginning and end to the relationship. In the real world things are more open-ended, and a lot of us retreat into ourselves as a result. I’m trying to take Nancy’s example and use it in more of my interactions with people.
      I was just reading an article by David Brooks about serving abroad. Many individuals and groups spend more time and money on themselves than on those they’re trying to help; they haven’t learned the utter humility of calming their egos and doing the help that is needed. If more of us made an effort to say a kind word or do a kind deed for a stranger every day, we wouldn’t need to travel to Kenya or South Korea to make the world better.
      I think you’re right about the name tag. In fact, I just met my first new neighbor yesterday, in my old painty sneakers and a button-down shirt. She was happy to chat. I’ll post the experience as soon as I finish jotting my notes!
      Thanks for the insight!

      1. That sounds like an interesting article, and I’m actually not surprised by its findings. I’ve always felt there are more than enough people here in the good’ole US of A in need of assistance, and that the dollars spent on travel arrangements, as well as transport of supplies, for such do-good’er efforts overseas could be used much more efficiently if kept at home.
        But perhaps these philanthropists are reluctant to help fellow Americans because they are just that – Americans, living in the “land of opportunity,” with an abundance of programs and potential to which those overseas have little or no access, yet still leading “underpriviledged” lives because they refuse to help themselves. I can identify with their reluctance; I do, however, also see the unfortunate irony of the situation – that we, as a nation, are ultimately refusing to “help ourselves.”
        By the way, I am thoroughly disgusted by bagworms. 🙂

        1. Yeah, it’s true that so many of us could help the world by helping ourselves. And that Brooks article has come chilling anecdotes about just how poor living conditions can be around the world. My feeling, however, is that a good standard of living has little correlation to how much a citizen suffers. Physical suffering is awful and easier to identify, while emotional and mental suffering are just as terrible yet more invisible. If there were reliable metrics for it I’d guess that the amount of Americans suffering in general is about the same as the suffering of people from other parts of the world. And we know that two of the best ways to improve your life is 1) to have someone show you they care, and 2) to care about someone else. Simple emotional engagement with others, I feel, is the key to a decent life. Worst case scenario: even if I only end up bugging my neighbors, at least I will have made my own life a little better through the effort of meeting them. And a few more people will have heard of Jim Public, your local artist!

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