It was a rather unremarkable morning in Dallas. I was traveling by myself, something I used to love but have grown to dislike. Preferring my husband as my personal Xanax for the crowds and post-covid travel chaos. But on this day, the normally tragic DFW airport was calm, quiet and dare I say…empty. I have been traveling since I was only a few months old, my mother was a flight attendant leading up to my arrival and my father chose to work in San Francisco despite living in San Diego and to further complicate the matter, my parents divorced when I was just a matter of months old so when my father was working in San Francisco, that meant my little seven year old self would board a plane and fly to meet him sometimes. All of this to say that I consider myself a seasoned traveler. Went out of state to college, studied abroad, blah blah there’s been a lot of flights.

Given my level of comfort at the airport I travel as most seasoned travelers do, with their heads down. I don’t need to take in my surroundings because I have most of the major airports committed to memory, especially DFW since it’s been my home for six years at this point. But since it was particularly quiet on this random Friday morning, I felt gratitude creep over me for the space, the quiet and the peace welcoming me at security. I felt so joyful that I looked up and noticed a young fellow traveler donning the signature “S” signifying Stanford. I looked to his bag to see if there was any indication of sport to which this young man most certainly played given the sheer amount of clearly team-issued apparel. “Stanford Football” was embossed on the front of his backpack as he set it onto the conveyer belt.

At this point you may wonder why I care, but that will soon become painfully clear.

“Stanford Football?” I ask with a smile towards the young gentleman.
“Yes ma’am,” he replied with a politeness I am not used to from his generation.
“My dad and cousin played there, so we’re a big Stanford family,” I tell him, the pride
oozing from me.
“Oh cool, when were they there?” he asked with genuine curiosity.
“My cousin played under Harbaugh then coached a bit with him as a GA. And my dad was there under Bill Walsh,” I pause before adding “he’s in the hall of fame there.”
“That’s awesome,” the young man tells me.
“Do you like playing there?” I asked holding back my judgement for the recent decline in the program.
“I do, I’m a junior so I’m headed back now but I like it there,” he tells me with a massive smile that was so genuine it warmed my heart.
“Yeah, it’s a beautiful campus,” I agree.
“Do you live here now?” he asks me, and I tell him that I do.
“I’m from here, isn’t it a great city?” he asks me, and I tell him it is.
“Good luck next season, we’re rooting for you,” I tell him as he gathers his items on the other side of the metal detectors.
“Thank you, it was great to meet you,” he tells me before walking off.

What a nice young man I thought to myself, wondering if he’d be telling his teammates about the hall of famer’s daughter, he met on the way back to campus. As I gathered my things and made my way to my own gate, I called my husband to tell him about the lovely encounter I had and to brag about getting through security so fast.

“These college kids look so young now,” I begin to tell him. “I just talked to this football player from Stanford, and he was so young and so polite.”
“Oh, cool who was it?” he asked.
“No clue, probably a receiver or DB,” I tell him trying to recall my previous life as a sports blogger before adding, “number 22, so probably a DB, right?” I ask.
“Well number 22 on Stanford is Emmitt Smith’s son,” he tells me.
Suddenly it clicks, him telling me that Dallas is his hometown, how courteous he was, how gracious and kind and how, respectful but not impressed he was about my family ties to Stanford. No wonder. While my dad was in the hall of fame at Stanford, his father is in the hall of fame. As in the National Football League Hall of fame – and the college football hall of fame for that matter. I felt the flush rush over me as I laughed into the phone. “What?” my husband asked.
“I just bragged to Emmitt Smith’s son that my dad was in the Stanford Hall of fame,” I say through laughter, mortified at the recognition of what I’d done. I hear my husband match my laughter. I feel like an idiot. He’s the most recognizable player on the Stanford roster at the moment and not only did I not recognize him, but I bragged about my daddy to a guy with a far more accomplished father in the world of football.

I’ve told this story to several people at this point, people who understand my humor and get why this is so embarrassing to me. I always want to play it cool and act like I belong in any room, even if I don’t. Here I was trying to puff out my chest while this young man acted with such class and respect when he had way more to brag about. He didn’t mention his dad or hell, even his own accomplishments on the Stanford gridiron. Instead, he paid attention to me, he let me feel seen. What a gift.

When I retell this story, I still feel embarrassed and a bit like an idiot for even letting the brag come out of my mouth but what I learned most in that short exchange was to be more like him. To be humble, to listen, really listen to people instead of trying to prove your reason for being in the room. It’s not that his family is more accomplished than mine, it’s that he paid more attention to me than I did to him. I spoke at him, eager to share my family’s great ties to Stanford. If I would have cared more about him, I would have asked more about the team, his position, etc. Or, I would have just said, “big Stanford fans, good luck next season.” Why did I feel the need to act superior? What did I have to prove?

When I think on these questions, I think the answer is found in the transition I’m in. At thirty-eight years old, I’m no longer a cool college kid, but I’m also not accomplished like I’d like to be in my career or life. So, in that moment I wanted to relate to the student athlete before me, to say hey, I’ve been there, or I was you once. But it came out all wrong and the absolute best part about it was his genuine grace and respect. He never looked down at me or laughed at my brag, he just said cool, because he knew it was cool to me. He let me have that moment without any need to outshine me. What a gift, what a lesson that young man taught me. It’s not about me, it’s not about who is better, it’s about human connection and sometimes the greatest gift you can give someone is your attention.


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I'm Jessica Bidonde -  longtime reader, blogger and first-time author.
time author.