I travel quite a bit for my work. As a self proclaimed student of humanity, I get the opportunity to observe how we interact with one another during my travels. Most of the time I witness kindness, politeness and an honest sense of humanity.
But it is the extremes that really catch my attention again and again. For instance, why do others watch those with disabilities as if they are contagious or with a sense of pity? Why do we hide our children’s eyes when a woman is breast-feeding? Why is it so hard to acknowledge someone else with an act of kindness when they are obviously having physical difficulties?
At one gate in the Atlanta airport I witness all three of these…strange I know, but it pushed me over the edge. It also made me look at myself with the same set of questions. Did I do any of these things? Do I look at people differently because they are different? Honestly, I think I do, and it was that admission that really made me mad at myself. I’m not supposed to be like that, but I am also not perfect, and the American society has helped shape my life…so, I’m guilty.
Back to our gate at the Atlanta airport…
Social norms have taught me that we should feel sorry for those with afflictions. Social norms have taught me that it is not polite to (even look in the direction) of a breast-feeding mother. Social norms have taught a crowd of travelers to pay more attention to the service dog than the wounded veteran…and it was at this point in the observation that I realized that I was actually waiting on someone else to do something once the disable veteran was allowed to board the plane. Duh…like the Matthew West song, Do Something, says, ‘if not us then who?’
So, as nearly 100 of us ignored the breast-feeding mom and looked anywhere but at the child with Down’s syndrome, we all instead focused on the cute Golden Labrador of the Vietnam era Veteran…ignoring the fact that his right leg did not move with fluidity and that it was incredibly hard for him to walk.
When he approached the gate agent, she told him that he would be in the last row of the plane. So, he would have to walk the jet way, and the length of the MD88 to sit in the back of the bus. Really? And that is when I couldn’t take it anymore. I walked past the breastfeeding mother, begging her pardon as I passed; smiled at the beautiful child that everyone else seemed to have pity for and interrupted the gate agent by sticking my boarding pass in her face.
“I am suppose to sit in First Class,” I said, but she was still saying something to the Veteran as he took a few challenging steps toward the jet bridge. She would deal with an arrogant first class flyer in a minute; effectively ignoring me.
“Sir, can you wait a minute,” I asked the Vet with a considerable amount of sternness, which seemed to also capture the attention of the gate agent. The social norm followers behind me went quiet. Someone was acting outside of the norm! Oh my…I must watch!
“I am suppose to sit in First Class,” I began again, “but I would like for this gentlemen to take my seat,” I told her…I did not ask. “I don’t care where you sit me on the plane, but I would like for this gentleman and his dog to sit up front.”
The Vet did not loose a beat, but swung his leg around to take a few steps towards me. He stuck his hand out. “You don’t have to do that, sir,” he said.
“Yea, I do,” I said, shaking his hand. “I don’t get to say thank you enough, and I thank you for your service to others.”
He did protest one more time. I waived him off again, and he simply said, “Thank you, sir,” and hoped that God would bless my family.
I say all this for a reason, and it is NOT to make me feel good. It is to throw a rock at the clear glass of social norms, especially when they stop people from acting like people. I am looking to make a crack in the glass. Who put that there anyway?
Babies drink mother’s milk, children are born with all types of afflictions and people get hurt protecting us. Take an interest in the people that are around you; they just might be different than you. They all have stories. They all have lives. They are all children of God, and you might find yourself swept up in someone else’s, Underlying Grace.
So, I dare you. Pick up your proverbial rock and see what you can break.