I had about 10 minutes before my flight, enough time to grab one more cup of coffee. I had rushed to finish one more assignment on the floor of the Salt Lake City airport before my flight to O’Hare and somewhat tight connection to Zurich. Just as I was about to order a coffee, I heard a man behind me ask, “Are you Leonard?”
I turned, and a man and his wife stood looking at me, an open passport in his hands. He looked at it, then looked at me, then back at the passport.
“Yes,” I said, my mouth dropping. “Wow.” I reached out and he handed me the passport, my passport, that I had left on the floor a few hundred yards from the coffee stand. I had hurriedly unplugged my computer from its last North American electrical outlet, packed up my stuff and left my passport, boarding pass inside, sitting next to a potted plant in the busy terminal.
I said Thank You, then Thank You again, and the guy and his wife smiled and walked on their way. I said Thank You 10 more times in my head, stuffed my passport and boarding pass back in my backpack, and ordered a coffee, sighing and shaking my head in disbelief that I left my goddamn passport on the floor of an airport minutes before the start of a three-week work trip.
And that guy saw it, picked it up, and walked around the terminal for a couple minutes trying to find a guy who looked like the guy in the photo, and handed it to me, no questions asked, no expectation of any reward, just doing the right thing on his way to the baggage claim. I did my best to communicate my gratitude, but how do you thank someone for saving you from thousands of dollars in airline tickets, days of stress, missed schedules, maybe identity theft? I should have given him a bear hug right there at the coffee stand.
My friend Mick told me he had a friend who said, “I used to think I was gonna change the world. Now I just let people onto the freeway.” I always loved that line, because I think it says something about what people can do to make other people’s lives better—all those little things that don’t make the evening news.
Most days, I think that most people aren’t going to save the world in the way we usually think of that phrase, save the world: feed starving children, rescue families from burning homes, start a nonprofit that helps people find a new start.
But then I think about people like that guy who handed me back my passport, or you, when you find someone’s wallet at a restaurant and give it to the manager, or pick up a dropped pacifier for a someone who’s holding a baby and trying to juggle three other things, or let someone in front of you in line at the grocery store when they have two items to buy and you have 25, I think Yeah, maybe everyone’s going to save the world.
More stories like this in my new book, Bears Don’t Care About Your Problems, out now.