Some people learn life skills like love, patience and conflict resolution from living with a partner and/or having small children. I get my character formation from traveling. Trying to be patient and kind when I’ve been up since 3 a.m., had two delayed flights and the rental car company lost my reservation is stressful. My sainthood expires after I’ve gone more than 24 hours without sleeping.
I flew a lot in the past week for speaking engagements. Chicago to Los Angeles to Sacramento to Portland to Colorado Springs. Yesterday I flew from Colorado to Pennsylvania to see my brother and sister, and then speak at Messiah College (outside of Harrisburg.)
I was sitting at a coffee shop in the terminal writing, waiting for my plane to board. I’d just read the online news, and it seemed like the whole world was in the process of losing its mind. A 4 year-old girl shot to death in a road rage incident. Students stabbed at a school in Sweden. A soldier killed in Iraq. Plus, lots of social media ranting and article posting and finger-pointing and unfriending and unfollowing and criticism.
I wasn’t writing as much as ranting as I typed in an open GoogleDoc. “PEOPLE OF THE WORLD. Just for today, just for ONE day, what if we we decided to practice patience, kindness, gentleness and love instead of anger, sharp words, arguing and violence?” Even some Christians, in the way they talk about politics and theology and other hot issues can be as caustic and mean and un-gentle as anyone.
For the love of everything holy. No, seriously, for the love of all that is holy, why are we reflexively hostile, critical, angry and fearful? Aren’t we supposed to be leading the way in meekness, gentleness, kindness and love? Aren’t we of all people supposed to remember that all human beings are created in the image of God, and therefore worthy of dignity and respect, no matter how much we might disagree with them?
I went to my gate. The gate agent was making an announcement. The flight from Colorado Springs to Chicago was oversold, and they were looking for a passenger to volunteer to get bumped from the flight in exchange for a travel voucher.
I went up to the podium and told her I’d consider it — and asked if she could tell me details.
She told me that she was about to start boarding, and asked me to walk over to the main United podium to talk to an agent there about what getting bumped might entail. “Don’t worry,” she said. “I won’t let the plane take off until you’ve agreed to get bumped, and we’ve rebooked you on a new flight.”
“Okay,” I said. That sounded like a reasonable plan.
I walked over to the main help desk. There were a lot of angry people in line ahead of me. There had been a flight to Houston that morning, and for some reason, at the last minute, they had to change to a smaller plane, so the passengers in the last rows all got bumped from their flight because their seats didn’t exist on the smaller plane.
I had to stand and wait in line with all these unhappy campers.
There were two United employees, both women in their 50’s, who were working the desk. They were trying to be professional, but I could hear the edge in their voices, the impatience in their rapidly-typing fingers as they rebooked these passengers and issued them compensation for their troubles.
Over the desk was a large sign: Welcome to United’s Friendly Skies.
“Their skies might be friendly, but their gate agents are b*#@*es,” one man mumbled under his breath.
As I was standing in line, all of a sudden, I looked up and saw my plane taking off.
The one that still had my luggage in it, the one they were supposed to hold until I got rebooked on a new flight, was airborne.
You’ve got to be kidding me.
A few minutes later, I stepped up to the desk. The agent was short with me. She took my ID and boarding pass without making eye contact. Her fingers pounded the computer keys and she sighed loudly when I asked if she would mind seeing if there were aisle seats available on my next flight.
I wanted to be short right back, to tell her that I felt like I’d been tricked into giving up my seat on the other flight and also, I kind of agreed with the man who said United’s skies were friendly but their help desk….not so much.
And then I remembered what I’d written/ranted about just half an hour earlier. Wondering why, just for one day, we couldn’t all pitch in and make the world a happier, calmer, gentler place. Wondering why, Christians of all people, weren’t radical in their practice of patience and gentleness.
And I was reminded that when I say “the world,” I mean me. And when I say “Christians,” I mean myself. And maybe that’s the disconnect, for why we all want the world to be a better place but it isn’t yet — because we’re waiting for other people to improve their behavior without improving our own. Because we let ourselves off the hook when there are extenuating circumstances.
I took a deep breath and smiled at the gate agent.
“It’s not the best Thursday morning you ever spent at work, is it?” I asked.
Her face relaxed. Her voice lost is edginess.
I cracked a joke, and the other passengers around me started to laugh.
The agent kept typing, trying to figure out how to rebook my flights. She was much kinder to me, made more eye contact, and apologized several times that it was taking so long. I told her no problem, take your time.
She handed me my new boarding passes, and thanked me again for being patient.
While I waited for my next flight, I e-mailed United to let them know how these two gate agents had worked so efficiently and kept their professionalism even though there were passengers who were really upset about the Houston flight. I told them these women deserved a raise.
I deleted the rant I’d written about the world. Because while I pray for the world to become a better place, what I really need to do is work on becoming a better person.
On earth as it is in heaven.
In me as it is in heaven.