Chance encounter

Passenger on commercial flight captures ‘beautiful’ moment between teenager and man

Clara Daly uses ASL to communicate with Tim Cook, who is deaf and blind, on a cross-country flight last week. (Lynette Scribner / Facebook)

A woman flying across the country witnessed an extraordinary moment between a 15-year-old girl and a 64-year-old man. She snapped a photo of the encounter and then wrote about what she witnessed in a post on Facebook, saying, “We are all starving for good news and this was just what we needed.” Multitudes agree with her as the post has been liked 1.2 million times as of this writing and shared more than 675,000 times.

The encounter took place last week on a cross country flight from Boston to Portland, Oregon, and involved Clara Daly, 15, of Calabasas, California, and 64-year-old Tim Cook. Daly and her mother were supposed to be flying direct from Logan airport to LAX, but their flight was canceled and they ended up aboard an Alaska Airlines flight that was making a stopover in Portland, Oregon. That chance scheduling snafu put them on the same flight as Cook.

The woman who witnessed the encounter is Lynette Scribner of Seaside, Oregon. She initially saw Cook at Logan international airport, according to her Facebook post, and reported that he appeared to be both blind and deaf. She could tell because the sister he’d been visiting was making signs on the palm of his hand, so they could communicate.

When Cook boarded the plane, flight attendants wanted to help him, but no one on the staff had the unique skillset required to communicate with a blind and deaf person. So they made an announcement asking if anyone on board was familiar with American Sign Language, or ASL. Recounting the story in an interview with the King 5 local news station in Seattle, Daly said, “Oh, I took ASL for like about a year, so I can give it a go.”

And give it a go she did. Scribner watched closely and was inspired by the interaction she saw between Clara and Cook. “It was fascinating to watch as she signed one letter at a time into his hand. He was able to ‘read’ her signing and they carried on an animated conversation,” Scribner, 56, wrote on Facebook.

In an interview with The New York Times, Scribner said the two at points could be seen laughing together. “His frustration was greatly reduced. You could just see him lighten up,” she recalled.

The conversation between the two began on very practical terms. Cook told Daly she asked how he was doing and if he needed anything, she said in the interview with King 5. The request was a glass of water. Later he asked how long was left on the flight. Her response: about three hours. Eventually they had a conversation “about life,” as Daly put it. They talked about their families and he revealed what life was like for him prior to becoming blind and deaf. She said he was a traveling salesman and he used to enjoy riding his bicycle.

“I don’t know when I’ve ever seen so many people rally to take care of another human being,” she wrote. “All of us in the immediate rows were laughing and smiling and enjoying his obvious delight in having someone to talk to.” And she was inspired by Daly and a man named Eric who had given up his seat so Cook could have an aisle seat, and also provided other assistance.

“I can’t say enough about this beautiful young woman named Clara who didn’t think twice about helping her fellow passenger, and Eric’s instant willingness to assist as well.”

A local TV station in Portland tracked Cook down at the in a home for the deaf in Gresham, Oregon, outside of Portland. A worker there confirmed that Cook had lost his sight and hearing in adulthood. Cook said he was “very moved” that Daly had taken the time to speak with him on the flight. But he struck a melancholy tone when reflecting on losing his eye sight and ability to hear.

“Helen Keller said deaf and blind people are the loneliest people in the world,” Cook said. “When I heard that I started crying.”

He reportedly was shocked that so many people were interested in the story about Daly communicating with him on the plane. Daly, speaking with the Times, concurred with Scribner’s assessment that this was a story people needed.

“Everyone’s all bummed out by what’s happening in our society,” she said, mentioning the relentless news cycle that includes tragedies like school shootings and stories of migrant families being separated at the border, among other things. “It’s just bad thing after bad thing.”

Below, watch King 5’s interview with Daly.

Read the full story at The New York Times


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