In my mind this morning, I started a revolution of love at the San Antonio airport.
I woke up at 4am in San Antonio and headed to the airport to fly home after a long weekend. I was in San Antonio primarily to do a training with college students about Islam and to encourage them to engage in meaningful and transformative relationships with Muslims that they know. I also spent a good (read: long) amount of time in conversations with others that I work with about love, peace, and government. It made for a pretty long weekend.
When I got to my gate, I realized I was at least an hour early for my flight. That’s not a great thing at 5:40am. I had nothing to do, and I was tired. I noticed a guy who was rehearsing something from a typed piece of paper, over and over again. He seemed to be nervous about whatever he was rehearsing for. He kept mouthing the words, getting stuck, looking back at the paper, and getting frustrated with himself for not having the whole thing down pat. I decided that I would help him with whatever he was practicing for.
I mean, I wanted to help him. My heart said, “You should help that guy”. My head said, “No, I’m tired and I will probably just offend him or something”. My heart said, “Shut up, head! Let him try”. My head said, “You’re too tired for an awkward interaction”.
I imagined myself going over to this guy, and saying something like: “Hey, I noticed you seem to be trying to memorize whatever is on that sheet. Would it be helpful to practice with me? I mean, maybe if you had a real person to talk to, you wouldn’t have to keep second-guessing yourself”. I wanted to assure him that he was going to do awesome in his interview, or tryout, or oral exam, or whatever. He was obsessing, and I wanted to help him out. In my imaginary scenario, he took me up on the offer and realized that he really was prepared. He realized he didn’t have anything to worry about. Then people started listening to him and cheered for him when he absolutely nailed it. It was awesome.
But, I just sat there and glanced at him every once in awhile. Everything stayed just as it was: status quo.
I also noticed a group of barely legal kids dressed in camouflage and carrying backpacks. Some of them were sitting in close proximity to one another, and it looked as if they were heading to boot camp or something. I wanted to talk with them about their lives and why they were heading off to boot camp. I wanted to know where they were from and what they hoped they would gain by joining the military – not to be mean, but to learn.
Then, a small girl with flushed cheeks walked into the waiting area, also in camouflage. She looked at the others and seemingly wanted to sit near them, but instead she timidly sat in a row by herself. She seriously looked like a twelve year old. I couldn’t believe that kids this young go off to war. I imagined myself moving over to sit next to her and find out her story. I asked her about where she was from, where she was headed, and why she was joining the military. I could sense her shyness melting away and a wash of comfort and belonging falling over her…in my imagination.
But I just sat there.
Then an old man sat next to her and did exactly what a decent human being (which I was not this morning) would do. He engaged her in a conversation. She lit up. When boarding started, she was not with the others – she was flying to a different airport in a different state from the others. She stood with the old man in line as if he were her Grandpa, looking at him and listening and smiling. I was proud of that man.
I should have been that man.
Instead, I was just a part of the scenery. I let the world continue to be the disconnected place that it is. I let the world be just as harsh and lonely as it is. I did nothing to change that.
I say often that you can’t love what you fear. It’s true. It was true today in the airport. I was afraid of rejection, of being strange, of over-stepping the boundaries that we erect between us in places like that. I talked myself out of the very love revolution that I want to be a part of every day, and that I could have participated in had I not been so afraid of strangers.
What I realized this morning in San Antonio is that I talk a big game, but when it comes down to it, I have just as many excuses as everyone else not to challenge the status quo. And our status quo in America is really lonely and disconnected. It’s terrible, and I could have done something about it.
To the guy rehearsing for whatever you were rehearsing for: I’m sorry, and I know you did a great job today. To the little kids going off to war: I hope that you never lose touch with your truest selves, the parts of you that compel you to love and desire peace. Don’t let your journey harden the goodness within you.
Maybe tomorrow I can actually be who I want to be.