Air travel is rarely fun for anyone, but for those dealing with difficult conditions, it can be especially stressful. Russell Lehmann, a man with autism who is a "speaker, author, and advocate" shared a touching personal story on Facebook about his recent experience flying. After having a flight delayed and missing his connection for the second time in two days, he succumbed to what he described as "the worst meltdown" of his life at the Reno-Tahoe International Airport. David, a man who Lehmann says works for American Airlines, found him curled up behind a ticket counter in a state of extreme distress.
"I was crying my eyes out, rocking back and forth as my muscles convulsed at a rapid pace. Sweating profusely, I was hyperventilating while my body shook in terror. David calmly approached me, and with the utmost compassion, he asked me what was wrong. I was barely able to get any words out. I believe I mumbled the words 'I don't know. I can't think, I have autism,'" Lehmann recounted.
The American Airlines employee assured him that there was a way to get Lehmann to Cincinnati, where he was due to speak the next day.
"During a time of indescribable mental torment and anguish, this man showed me compassion. This man showed that he cared."
"During a time of indescribable mental torment and anguish, this man showed me compassion. This man showed that he cared. Hell, he even offered to buy me a slice of pizza for lunch! David offered to reroute my flight, and he gave me some time to think about it, for I told him that I was afraid of exacerbating my symptoms by boarding another flight, i.e. a tightly enclosed space filled with vast amounts of stimuli," he said.
Then, David went above and beyond to make Lehmann feel comfortable enough to fly. He returned with the actual pilot of the plane that Lehmann had the choice of boarding. David had notified the pilot, along with the entire crew of his situation, and David actually took it upon himself to clear a whole row of seats so that Lehmann could have space to himself for the flight.
"The pilot was also incredibly kind, reminding me that what I was experiencing only added validity to the message I spread. To the lives I touch. I ended up deciding to board the flight. I was the very first to board, and David walked onto the plane with me, introducing me to the flight crew one by one. I was still shaking and crying, but this time I was crying tears of thankfulness. If it hadn't been for David, I would not have gotten on that plane."
Russell Lehmann's story is a snapshot of someone showing compassion through a few simple acts of kindness and proves what a huge difference small gestures can make. "This post isn't about autism," said Lehmann, "It's about doing the right thing. About being a good person. About accepting others and reaching out your hand to someone in need, even if they are a total stranger . . . Show what you're made of. Give a damn . . . Be brave and open your heart. Fulfill your moral duties as a human being. Be like David."