Thursday, September 22, 2016

Careless words can harm

     In preparing for boarding a plane, the desk attendant at the gate literally shouted over the loud speaker, “Put your passports away. You’re in America after all.”
      I felt uncomfortable – perhaps embarrassed is a better choice for a word – while standing in a close by boarding line at the San Francisco International Airport.
     Chills went down my spine and instinctively I glanced around at the crowd lining up near me.
      All ages. Travelers. Business people. There was a perfect example of diversity with a whole lot of international visitors in the mix.
     Careless remarks often said without thinking can hurt, and deeply, too. You and I have accidently let words come out of our mouth and we could kick ourselves instantly.
     It was a quiet Sunday afternoon and no one appeared in a rush. Ah, that relaxed California lifestyle was seeping into our bones and working its magic from the week’s visit.
     What? Did I hear that remark right?
     There was a sudden heightened tension in the air as if a bolt of lightning had struck, and I began listening for comments from those around me that would help me tell the story.

     Apparently the desk attendant had instructed the passengers several times before via a PA announcement that ID for security would not be necessary. In the meantime, the embarking was moving at a snail’s pace. She was annoyed and her filters were off.
     You know how people are in a crowd, and seldom do they listen anyhow to those rote announcements repeated over and over.
      Besides, every time you fly, there is a new rule or procedure overtaking the previous one. I am guilty of not paying attention any better than the next person.
     I was assuming that this would cause quite a commotion. People are prone to being judgmental and we have gotten worse this campaign season. If you profess too much patriotic loyalty, you are placed in this camp. If you are of a social justice bent, you are put in the other.
    About half the people in line voiced in agreement. The others?  I heard one mumbling male voice near me remark, “Maybe not after January.” Well, he didn’t have to say anymore.
     Then utter silence. You could hear the roaring planes outside on the runway taking off away from such a thoughtless comment.
     I wanted to shout out, “How rude.” Why I didn’t express myself, I don’t know.
     Well, I do know. It wouldn’t have helped matters for the moment. Often it is wiser to save your efforts and choose your battle.
    You and I are just about at the breaking point with this political campaign. Speak your mind, and hold your head up for your beliefs. Keep quiet, and stay out of the debate. You’ve gone about daily life these past months either treading lightly, or carrying a big stick.
      If the desk attendant was frustrated and let out her personal feelings without giving it any though, she was representing an airline, a city and a country after all. It doesn’t speak well for the rest of us.
     I doubt that the remark was meant maliciously, although a bias did come through.
     Naturally, I couldn’t wait to take my seat on the plane and start writing, and that’s how this week’s column was born.
     One of the things that I have prided myself in writing AND ONE MORE THING… is that I have kept away from political issues and only if necessary, leaned into social commentary on a situation I felt strongly.
     First of all, I just happened to be flying on September 11, 2016 and I had been cognizant earlier in the morning while driving south to the airport that I would #never forget.
     In fact, I had reflected on where I was on that fateful day and how I had barely made sense of the terrible tragedy in my own small part of the world. Perhaps, that desk attendant had lost a colleague on one of the hijacked airplanes, or was grieving a passing of some other kind and was emotionally edgy.
     My husband and I were staying in Torrey, Utah fifteen years ago doing a giant loop of the great national parks. If there ever was a place that showcased some of our nation’s best natural wonders and rugged scenery, it was surely in the Southwest.

      I know I hiked more vigorously the following week while waiting until air transportation got back up and running. I sensed my freedoms had been tampered with and things would never be the same – like having to contend with TSA rules.
     Here I was traveling once again, and by chance, it was another September 11th.
     Secondly, San Francisco is a huge international gateway airport and I had been noticing people clutching passports from other countries, speaking a different tongue and in cases, they were looking completely confused over how to find their gate or their luggage at baggage claim.
     It might have been their first entry into the United States, and it is appalling that they heard such an ignorant statement.
      I can only speak for myself when I am in another country, and how much I appreciate a welcome — often a helpful hand comes graciously — when I am so far from the familiarity of my home turf.
     Our words can be used to hurt or to heal. “Careless words stab like a sword, but the words of wise people bring healing.” -Proverbs 12:18.
     Briefly, a damper was put on a sunny day. Through the impulsive remark of a single person, it reminded me the importance of an open heart to all people in the world.