The first time I ever saw tefillin, I was in an airport (my memory is that it was Laguardia, but it doesn’t make sense why I would have been there at that time, so that part of the memory might be wrong) and our plane was severely delayed. I must have been somewhere between 10 and 13, and I was bored stiff stuck in this airport, and I saw this man standing by the window doing the strangest thing - wrapping these black strappy contraptions around his head and arm and mumbling to himself and perhaps rocking back and forth, though I may be inserting that last part into the memory retroactively. I suppose it must have been his kippa that tipped me off to the fact that he was Jewish; I had never seen an Orthodox Jew before, and I had never seen so much as a picture or a drawing of tefillin - the only reason I knew such a thing hypothetically existed or at least had existed at some point was because we had gone over the (mediocre English translation of) (the Reform movement’s truncated version of) Shema in a very general way in Hebrew school a few times, and so I knew there was some kind of thing with Jews putting little boxes near their eyes and on their hands or something. Even with that knowledge, I’m surprised I was able to put it together as quickly as I did - I remember that flash of inspiration - Oh! That’s what tefillin are! - but I did.
I wasn’t even religious in any way at that point, I hated Hebrew school as much as all my other classmates and chewed gum during services just because we all knew it annoyed the cantor and only did things my parents made me do - and so I had no reason back then to really care about that moment, but still 10-odd years l remember it distinctly.
So thanks, random tefillin-donning airport Jew.