I have a love/hate relationship with airports. I didn’t take my first flight until I was a young adult. To that point, all of my travel had been on that gray dog – Greyhound. As a kid, my mother and I would ride the Greyhound bus line from Midland (TX) to Dallas (TX), in the summer and, sometimes, over Christmas break. My Grandmother would pick us up at the Greyhound station and off we went to her home in the tiny town of Itasca (TX).
Greyhound Adventures: Childhood Curiosity
Riding the bus from Midland to Dallas (and back) was a lengthy ride, often going far out of the way of what the most direct route would be. But, even with that, I enjoyed my time on those bus rides. After I talked my mother’s ear off, I went up and down the aisle talking to whoever would engage with me. And my mom could finally dig into whatever book she’d brought along. Other than the long ride, the process was easy – you showed up, they loaded your bags, you got on the bus, rode to your destination, then quickly retrieved your bags on the other end. Easy-peasy.
I’ve always been fascinated with people. Even as a young boy I was more interested in the invisible bags that people carry over the ones that were thrown under the bus. I remember looking around the bus and finding my “marks” as soon as I got on that bus. And, often, I had located them in the bus terminal. My sense of curiosity ran wild:
Who’s sitting by themself?
They have long hair, I wonder how long it took them to grow that out?
He has a Walkman, I wonder what kind of music he’s listening to?
She looks very sad. I wonder what happened?
Wonder upon wonder ran through my mind. Not that I wanted to interview all these people. Trust me, momma wasn’t about to let me act a fool on that bus like that. But it never stopped me from wondering and caring, while doing so at a distance.
ASALH: An Inspiring Immersion
This week I presented on a panel in Jacksonville, FL at the 108th annual conference for the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. ASALH was founded by Carter G. Woodson, the father of Black History Month (which actually started as Negro History Week in February of 1926). It was truly an immersive, inspiring, and invigorating experience. I will try to capture the essence of my short visit to the conference in a subsequent blog. But, for today, I’d like to capture a bit of how my childhood fascination with people and their stories continues to unfold over the course of my travels.
Navigating the Airport: An Anxious Experience
I don’t know about you, but going through security at the airport these days stresses me out. Don’t get me wrong, I am so grateful for the many folks working hard to keep us safe but, my goodness, every time I walk up to that conveyor belt my anxiety rises.
Does everything go in a bucket, or do the bags stay out on the belt?
Do I need to take my laptop out, or can I leave it in my backpack?
Hoodie? Do I need to remove it or do I leave it on?
And so much more…
Then it’s time to board the plane…and that’s a whole other ball of confusion. Yes, we all have our group numbers and it should be pretty clear that we all have a ticket, therefore, we are all getting on the plane. But that doesn’t stop the mob of a “line” that forms, spilling out onto the concourse. Everyone is in a desperate rush to get in that “comfy” airplane seat and sit there for however long their flight is. As for me, I sit back and watch. People’s body language says a lot.
A lady walks in front of another lady to get in the boarding lane. The look says it all – “I know you didn’t just jump in front of me!”
A guy who’s clearly had too much to drink (by noon), tries to scan in before his group is called. After a brief engagement with gate agents, he’s almost denied entry onto the flight.
A family with 5 kids of ages (roughly) 2-13 gets into the boarding lane. As they move up in line I can see the look on many faces saying “Oh Lord, please don’t seat me near them!”
There’s a couple who clearly adores each other by the way they look at one another. And the way they can’t keep their hands off each other.
And so many more. But you get my drift. Perfect strangers, we prepare for our journey tens of thousands of feet in the air inside of a metal tube.
Perfect Strangers: Stories at 30,000 Feet
It’s quite fascinating for me to watch the loading on the plane. This process is dependent on cooperation and coordination. While there may be times that are definitely smoother than others, it always seems to work out.
I watch a man help a mother who’s on her own with children to store their belongings in the overhead compartment. Further up the aisle, I see this action several more times – strangers helping strangers store their belongings. A lady gives up her aisle seat to switch with a father in another row so that he can sit with his precious family.
As I settle in my seat, I notice the family with all the young children heading my way. I hear murmurs from those around me. As for me, I’m really pulling for them to be in my area. Y’all know I’m all about the kids. They end up seated across the aisle from me, two rows back. You can tell it’s already been a long day for them in preparation for this early afternoon flight. But we all settle in and off we go.
In flight, the man behind me is sawing logs (snoring) and the kids are having a blast, much to the displeasure of many around them. I give huge props to the parents – they tried every trick in the book.
Community in the Skies: A Microcosm of Society
During the flight I thought about all the stories that were unfolding, simultaneously, throughout that plane. Everyone with their unique life journey, together on this shorter journey through the air. The conversations are rich, even amongst strangers.
While I know that this plan is definitely not a utopia, I believe that most of us are all just trying to navigate life as best we can, from moment to moment, to get to our destination. There are no questions regarding political affiliation or religious preference when the need arose for help with storing luggage. We’re all riding the same plane. It didn’t matter how you got there or what you were getting picked up in, here we are, together for this brief moment in time. People from all walks of life joined this small community. All carrying literal and figurative luggage with us on our trip.
The plane is a microcosm of our communities in our daily lives. We’re all going through something on our way to various destinations and checkpoints along the way. The luggage we carry with us throughout our distinct journeys can be heavy, at times. Our lives can be filled with anxiety as we wait in the TSA checkpoints along the way. At some point, we will encounter people from various walks of life. And we encounter and endure a great many things that may bring us displeasure or discomfort.
Unity in a Divided World
But what I’ve seen to be true over the course of my life is that, the majority of us, simply want what’s best for our families and each other. Trust me, I’m very aware of the forces that exist that seek to steer us from this reality. Whether it’s extremely biased news sources, social media algorithms that force-feed us specific information to keep us in silos, or perhaps just some members of our families or friend group who are dead set on buying into the most far-fetched conspiracies. We’re inundated with things that tell us that we’re so very divided; that we don’t care for each other and, if we do care for each other that, somehow, that means we’re weak.
In reality, that couldn’t be further from the truth. No matter your politics, religion, social status or classification, I want good for you. And I know that you want good for me. A better you, and a better life for your family, makes us all better. A better me creates better outcomes for my family and, thus, the spokes of my family wheel touches those around them, creating a better world. And that is what life is all about – working together to create a better life.
The Challenge: Embracing Unity and Empathy for a Better Tomorrow
As I reflect on this, the Mayan greeting, ‘In Lak’ech’, comes to mind – I am you, and you are me.
No matter what we may be led to believe by the media, politicians, and the likes, I know this to be true.
Don’t believe me? I have a challenge for you.
Find time to visit with someone in your community from a different walk of life and commit to listening intently without jumping in with your two cents. Ask them about anything related to daily life and their hopes for the future of our country and world, and just listen.
Then, try to get in touch with your elected politician to have that same conversation. Should you get through to actually have that conversation, I think you will be strikingly surprised by the difference in these conversations. *Regardless of political affiliation
One conversation will be authentic, real and, most likely, strike an emotionally connective response.
The other will be generic, simply-worded talking points that may, too, draw an emotional response.
One of the emotional responses will be rooted in care and connectedness. The other will likely be rooted in othering and fear.
Keep on keeping on. This thing called life is a team game. We will rise together or we will crumble under the weight of divisive rhetoric, which leads to othering, hate, and intolerance.
In Lak’ech, my friends. In Lak’ech.
I’ll leave you to your experiment and look forward to hearing how it turns out.