It’s 5:30am and I am at the airport carrying a 10-pound briefcase and a 23-pound toddler. I know what you’re thinking… “Wow, that’s a pretty big briefcase and a very tiny toddler.” And you are absolutely right on both accounts. Anyways, I digress. So, I have been awake since 3:30am after staying up the night before doing mounds of laundry so I could pack, cleaning out the fridge and pantry so I don’t come back to a mold monster overtaking my kitchen, and then dyeing my three months worth of grown out roots so that the friends I haven’t seen in a while that I will definitely be seeing over the holidays won’t think I’m a complete disaster (even though I know that they already know that I am in fact a complete disaster).
I’m highly caffeinated but hardly awake and my two year old is sick and dripping snot all over me. The combined weight of her and my briefcase together have my back screaming with no relief in sight (see previous blog for my “back story”, haha, backstory, get it? OK. Sorry.) and then up ahead, what do I see? A bird? A plane? Little baby Jesus? No. It’s none of those things.
IT’S THE SECURITY LINE FROM HELL!
I walk up to the roped-off line of death that I like to call the “vestibule of hell” (Dante’s Inferno is one of my faves) and I walk by an American Airlines agent. She is obviously already overwhelmed by the general stupidity of the masses and I don’t blame her at all. She glances at me with a look that says, “Don’t ask me any stupid questions because my quota has already been filled today.” There is a brief moment as I’m crossing the threshold of the security line, when I am too concerned with the seemingly never-ending line in front of me, to even acknowledge her. Suddenly, a little voice in my mind whispers, “Pshhh, ummm are you seriously going to just pass by a human being without even acknowledging them??” So I stop, turn back, make eye contact and I look at her, really look at her and smile. I simply say “happy holidays” and I mean it. She looks at me like I am an alien, (maybe it’s all the toddler snot), then she pauses for a second, (realizing that this is not a dream) and says “Thank you!” Then she looks at me, really looks at me. She sees the briefcase and then her eyes travel up to the snotty little girl on my hip and finally rest on my face that must show how exhausted I am. She obviously has a child of her own because I see her empathize with me as she makes eye contact again. Her demeanor visibly softens and she turns, pulls a rope back, and says with a smile, “Here hunnie, you can go through the express line and happy holidays to you too!” I thank her profusely and inside I’m all like…
As I am walking past the hellishly long line, I notice that the security attendant has started to usher other families with small children who have been waiting in the regular line into the “fast lane”. I see the grateful smiles from these families and realize that they are direct effects of a brief moment in time when I decided to have a genuine exchange with a fellow human being. I understand why those families were waiting in the regular line. I am sure they were too busy trying not to lose their kids or their luggage to even notice the attendant was there. Meanwhile, the attendant had probably ushered thousands of people through the standard security line and had stopped really seeing them. Neither party had noticed each other and since there was no connection, there could be no empathy. Then I have that “Aha!” moment – Connection begets empathy.
We live in a big city. We are all crammed into tight spaces- on the bus, on the train, in the elevator, and waiting in lines. We are exposed to thousands of people on a daily basis (and that may not even include social media), whereas a couple centuries ago a person may have only encountered a few thousand people in their lifetime. With the onslaught of contact and proximity to other people, we begin to lose our humanity. It’s completely understandable though. If you had just one purple rose growing in your yard, it would be a rarity that you would acknowledge and treasure, but if purple roses are growing on every bush you see, then they become just another flower that you pass by on your way to work. We see so many people on a daily basis that we don’t really see anyone at all and in order to have empathy we must acknowledge one another’s humanity. This is one of the most important things we do at Rooted. Through creative activities we connect and really see one another and then at the end, this connection however brief, allows us to share and empathize with one another.
So in this new year, I challenge you to cause a ripple effect of your own. Smile at the grumpy airport attendant, pay for that tired-looking mom’s coffee, say “thank you” to the bus driver, or have just a little more time for a friend who needs you. When you really see others, they will really see you too, and doesn’t it feel wonderful to be seen? And of course, Happy New Year to you and yours.