In Good Faith: ‘Be Kind’ is a good start, but let’s go beyond
My openness to my neighbor at the airport reminded me that we all have points of connection if we are open to being vulnerable and kind.
I am still amazed at the conversation I had at an airport recently.
Over spring break, my wife and I had the occasion to spend a layover at Chicago's Midway airport. While we waited, my wife found a seat near an outlet and answered some emails. I soon noticed an older woman looking around for a seat so I invited her to sit beside me. Our conversation was one of the highlights of my trip!
The woman politely thanked me for offering her a seat, then she said, “I hope you don’t mind, but I'm a talker.” I said, “I am, too,” and the ensuing conversation changed me. She shared that she was heading to Arizona to spend spring break with her 19-year-old granddaughter. I shared that we, too, have a 19-year-old daughter whom I took on spring break last year with my 78-year-old mother. She quickly replied, “Isn’t youth wasted on the young?” I smiled knowingly. She continued to share that she was 79 years old.
When she was 19, she and I could not have been having this conversation. It would have been frowned upon, to say the least, as she was a black woman from the South. I acknowledged that history, and then said, “I am glad we are talking. I teach religion in a Catholic high school. We often speak of social issues, including social justice." That opened a long conversation for us!
We talked about civility, Martin Luther and human dignity. I'm sure I learned more from her than she did from me. Toward the end, I pulled out a picture of my daughter, who is biracial, to show this kind woman. Her eyes lit up and she got the biggest smile on her face. She complimented my daughter's kind eyes and brilliant smile, then said, “I hope you are enjoying her.” I said, “Yes, most days.” Of course we shared a laugh over that reference to the teen years.
Soon after, she caught sight of her daughter and granddaughter and excused herself. We wished each other safe travels and thanked each other for our enlightening conversation.
As I think about this conversation, I realize I didn’t even catch her name. But it didn't matter. I still felt a real connection with her.
A question she left me to ponder was, where is civility in our society today? I wish I would have had this answer ready for her. I don't believe civility is dead.
I actually see it whenever I am having a one-on-one conversation with anyone, whether in a supermarket, at work or with my family. Of course, we all exhibit great care to those closest to us. But I hope the more we practice it at home, the more we will also do it with anyone we meet on any given day.
We have all seen T-shirts with the phrase “Be Kind.” That is a great reminder. But I'm referring to something deeper and more conscious than that. It is to pause and recognize the dignity of every person we meet. It is living out the wonderful command from Jesus, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
My openness to my neighbor at the airport reminded me that we all have points of connection if we are open to being vulnerable and kind. In this era, I think that's what the world needs more of if we're going to help our society heal from its divisions.
That's an effort I can make and will make more often.
Mark Nuehring is a theology teacher at Bethlehem Academy in Faribault.