By CHRISTINA CARON, THE NEW YORK TIMES
The teenage girl was headed to California, and the man to Oregon. They weren’t supposed to be on the same flight, but their chance encounter came to be widely known and celebrated.
The girl, Clara Daly, 15, and her mother were traveling home to Calabasas, Calif., and had planned to fly nonstop from Boston to Los Angeles. Their flight was canceled, so Alaska Airlines booked them on another flight with a layover in Portland, Ore.
That’s how Clara ended up meeting Tim Cook, 64. Mr. Cook, who is deaf and blind, wasn’t able to communicate easily with the flight attendants.
Another passenger, Lynette Scribner, described in a Facebook post what she saw.
“The flight attendants sincerely wanted to assist him, but had no way to communicate,” she wrote. “I watched as they didn’t flinch when he reached out to touch their faces and arms. They took his hand and tried so hard to communicate with him, to no avail.”
The attendants asked if anyone onboard knew American Sign Language. Clara, who had taken sign language classes for a year, pressed the call button.
The attendants asked her to sign letters into Mr. Cook’s hand, so she knelt in front of him and began spelling out words.
“How are you?” she asked. “Are you O.K.?”
They chatted a few times during the flight, once for about 30 minutes. She told him where she went to school and about her grandmother in Boston. He told her about his childhood and about his sister, who also lives in Boston.
“It seems like such a lonely life to be deaf and blind — to not be able to see and hear,” Clara said on Sunday.
Ms. Scribner, 56, who was traveling to Seaside, Ore., and sitting in the same row as Mr. Cook, took a picture of the two of them: Clara looking intently at Mr. Cook’s face as she signed into his hands, which were clasped around hers.
Ms. Scribner said she is in the habit of posting one positive thing on Facebook every day, so she wrote about the pair and attached the picture.
“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.”
At various points during the conversation “they were both laughing,” she said on Sunday. “His frustration was greatly reduced. You could just see him lighten up.”
A friend asked her to make the post public so it could be shared, and shared it was. As of Sunday afternoon, Ms. Scribner’s post had been liked more than 1 million times and shared nearly 600,000 times.
“I was just so struck by the kindness of Clara,” Ms. Scribner said. “I think people were starving for something beautiful.”
“Everyone’s all bummed out by what’s happening in our society,” she said, citing school shootings, migrant families separated at the border and global warming. “It’s just bad thing after bad thing.”
Seeing something that brings joy is just rare, she said.
Mr. Cook, who lives in a home for the deaf in Gresham, Ore., a suburb of Portland, Ore., told the television station KGW that he was accustomed to feeling isolated.
“Helen Keller said deaf and blind people are the loneliest people in the world,” he said. “When I heard that I started crying.”
He lost his sight and hearing as an adult, according to Heather Hunter, the spokeswoman for Brookdale Senior Living, the company that runs the home where Mr. Cook lives.
“He’s just completely shocked that so many people were so interested in the story,” she said on Sunday.