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Every once in a while I will come across a blog post from people describing the 300+lb person they had to endure sitting next to on their flight. I completely get the grievance of the "smaller" individual having their personal space invaded by some fat lazy slob (one of the more tame descriptions I've seen.) I also understand that you have paid for your seat and have every right to enjoy a comfortable ride to your destination. I get it, but now I'd like to walk you through this same scenario from my world view. 

I've spent the last 14 years performing across the United States and abroad at varying weights. Traveling at over 400lbs is no easy feat. If I would just stop eating everything in sight and being lazy all of my problems would go away, I’d be skinny and healthy right?  Well at least that’s what I’ve heard from others. I usually opt for driving to my shows if it's possible. Then there are those times that I dread, when I have no choice but to fly.  

Before I get too deep into this I want you to know that I'm not looking for anyone to feel sorry for me. My goal is simply to show you the view from the other side. 

My anxiety about flying starts the second I realize I'm out of options. I'm uneasy for days and my stress level is through the roof. I pray for peace of mind a lot during this time.  Sometimes arriving at the airport a few hours early can assure me that I’ll find a seat next to an open seat. It is my number one goal to make sure that I do not make anyone on my flight uncomfortable. I want to be invisible. I play a fascinating game of pretend that would put any other version of the game to shame. It starts with me pretending that I don't notice when people are staring at me as I arrive at the gate and they realize I'm on their flight. 

So I make my way to the counter again just to make sure that that "open seat" next to me is still open, only to discover that this flight is now full. So here is where I suck it up and brace myself for what's to come. Questions flood my mind stronger than any tsunami you can imagine. "Will I fit?" "What if they ask me to leave the plane?" "What if they say I have to purchase another seat?" What if...." Then I pray "Lord help me to be strong. Help me to endure whatever is next and to handle it well. Help me to keep my emotions in check.”

Walking down the jetway feels like I’ve been ordered by a band of pirates to  “walk the plank“ and I can’t swim. Once I'm on the plane I discreetly ask the flight attendant if I can have an extension for my seat belt. In a perfect world, she/he would quietly hand it to me. Most of the time I get the old "sure I'll bring it to your seat." Mostly because they need these extensions to demonstrate to rest of the passengers how to properly fasten their seat belt. This is exactly what I do not want.  Again, I pretend not to see the way people look at me while I'm searching for my seat. Row after row I can feel the relief from passengers. Thanking God in heaven that I am not I'm not sitting next to them. I just want to be invisible. So I find my seat and I stand as long as possible for my sake and for the sake of the person sitting next to me. I've also arranged everything I need from my carry on bag so I won't have to move again for the duration of the flight. Be still, be invisible is the mantra playing in my head. Eventually I sit, folding my arms and crossing my legs at the feet in an attempt to make myself smaller. Sometimes the aisle arm rest will go up and that can be a huge relief as I can lean my body more toward the aisle. If that doesn’t work, then I sit silently enduring the pain of both arm rests digging into the flesh of my thighs. It's a painful experience that I wouldn't wish on anyone. The bruises usually disappear after a few days.

After the flight attendant has finished all of the safety rules and demonstrations he/she brings the seatbelt extender to me and says, "Here you go sir. Here's your requested seatbelt extension. I'm gonna need that back after the flight."  “No problem.” I respond, pretending that we are the only two people engaged in this very short but extremely embarrassing communication. My game of pretend continues as I ignore the person across the aisle watching me as I fasten my "two" seat belts. To avoid revisiting this scene I purchased my own seatbelt extender. 

Trust that by the time I arrive at the seat next to you, I have done everything within my power to change this situation. It's not my goal to make you miserable. Perhaps with a little conversation you might actually like me. In most cases you've already labeled me as this fat, nasty, lazy slob, that you got stuck with. Your face tells me that we probably shouldn't speak at all so we don't. Then I read your blog about how miserable I made you and how I ruined your trip.  Please accept my humble apology. 

My hope by writing this is that we can understand each other a little better.  I’ve read your side and hopefully you can read my side with an open mind. Don’t get me wrong, it hasn’t all be bad.  I’ve met some wonderful compassionate people along the way that were very kind and understanding of my situation. There’s so much more to me than this body that you see.

So today, it’s back to the airport for me. Wish me luck.

Thanks for letting me share.  I already feel a little better about todays flight.

Love and Peace

Chinua Hawk

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