I was on the plane in my seat looking out the window when a family walked up; mom, dad, and daughter. Mom sits down in the aisle and instructs the dad and daughter to sit across from her. Dad realizes they have the seats wrong and someone needs to sit next to me in the middle. Mom “whispers” up to dad, “She doesn’t want to sit next to a stranger.” Dad, not a small man, says “I need an aisle!” The mom, gets up, they shuffle around, only making things more awkward and saying again “she doesn’t want to sit next to a stranger.” At this point, I start to feel things inside. Things like, um, “do you realize that the stranger you are talking about is me, right here. I hear you! And I am a really kind, disease-free, covid free, human being, just like you!”
The shuffle, and mom sitting again in the wrong place, forces the larger dad to huff and puff, “oh my God” as he quickly squeezes himself into the middle seat next to me and his daughter who I thought was probably about 17, sits next to him on the isle, mom across the aisle. Mom sensing the confusion and chaos she caused says to her husband, “sorry, I got confused about what seats were ours, and she doesn’t want to sit next to a stranger.” For the THIRD time. Finally, dad speaks up, he says, “Well, she hasn’t bitten me yet!” I chime in “Yep, and I might be the nicest “stranger” you have ever met!” Dad was kind and we chatted throughout our trip but this experience I must write about.
A stranger, someone to be feared, someone to be afraid of, someone to avoid, to stay away from, someone that is separate, someone NOT like me, someone that is dangerous! Stranger Danger! This plane was full, every seat was taken. Around 200 people all heading from Tulsa, Ok to Orlando. More than likely, we are all working class, all on our way to Orlando with our families to enjoy summer sun and fun. There were people of all different colors, there were different languages, the melting pot of the U.S., good citizens, wearing our masks, following the rules, orderly getting on our plane to head for our vacation. As I sat there while this “strange” experience played out before my eyes, I felt so vulnerable. It took me back to pre-k, when my family had moved to Prescott, Arizona after the school year had already started and I road the bus to school. I can remember getting on the bus and no one would let me sit with them. I was the new “stranger” that no one knew, so no one was going to share their seat. It made me think of my black and brown brothers and sisters and how many times they feel like they are in situations like this? How many times are they made to feel like the “other”, the person to be feared, to be avoided, or to stay away from. All kinds of thoughts and emotions ran through my mind throughout that flight. I thought of Rosa Parks and how everything inside of her must have been screaming, I am a person! A PERSON just like YOU! …. Just a person!
My loves, fear of each other is NOT the answer. It never will be. I beg you, I plead with you, please, please, please do not teach your children to be afraid of people. Teach them to LOVE people. Teach them to enter the world of others. Teach them how to interact with humanity. With the person checking them out at Walmart, with the person serving them their 4 for $4 at Wendy’s, and with the server in the restaurant. Teach them how much we need each other, teach them, that without all these people, the world does not go round. Teach them that we need the pilot to fly the plane and the people that empty the toilet after we land. We need City officials, police, firefighters, and teachers and we need maintenance workers, people to pick up our trash, and people willing to fix our plumbing. We are all so connected, and we cannot separate ourselves without hurting ourselves. If I think I do NOT need you! I have just handicapped myself, I have just cut off my own arm. “The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor.” (I Corinthians 12:21-23 NIV)
The world quickly becomes a very dangerous place when we are afraid of each other. If we are afraid of people, we create a kind of “otherness”. We can dehumanize each other in seconds. This is how we killed millions of Jews in the Holocaust, this is how 800,000 of our brothers and sister were killed in 100 days in the Rwanda Genocide, this is how we enslaved, sold, and oppressed our brothers and sisters in the U.S. for 400 years because we simply made them “other,” less than human, and something to be feared. There is so much pain, hurt, cruelty, and hate that leads to horrible criminal acts all around us, but there is so much more love. There are people everywhere that just want love, belonging, and acceptance.
There were 200 people on that plane, and I bet that they were “good” people. Not people trying to kidnap your children, or steal your identity, just good upstanding citizens. Just people. People who need people. People who need you! People who need me! People that need each other! You see like our dear Barbara Streisand once sang to us all; People, People, who need people are the luckiest people in the world.
My loves go befriend a “stranger” today and teach your children to embrace humanity!
From my heart to yours.