Friday, October 28, 2011

That Lady

I promised myself that I would not blog about this.  Actually, I promised myself that I would not talk about this or really call any attention to it at all.  There were good reasons for this.  But I am feeling compelled to share...just not for the reason that it will at first appear.

Last week, Molly (4) Caroline (1), myself, and my mom went on a flight to Massachusetts to visit some dear friends.  It was Caroline's first flight, and she did great--until the end.  As soon as the plane began to descend, she began to pull at her ears and wail.  The pressure hurt.  From the amount she was screaming, the pressure really hurt.  But we made it.

On the return flight, we were as ready as we could be.  I gave Caroline some tylenol in advance.  We had plenty of things for her to eat and drink to keep the pressure from building up.  But wouldn't you know that as soon as the plane began descending, the wailing began again.  She was inconsolable.  I felt so bad for her, and sorry that my fellow passengers had to listen to her.

A few minutes into the crying, a lady about 3 rows in front of us turned around and stared at us, shaking her head back and forth.  Clearly, annoyed.  I smiled.  My mom tried to communicate that the baby's ears were hurting.  The lady just stared at us, angry.  Throw-them-off-the-plane-angry.  She even pressed the flight attendant call button at one point, presumably to complain about us.  My heart started to race.  Anger.  Frustration.  Tightness in my chest that slowly creeps upward.  Lady, can't you understand?  Can't you put yourself into our shoes?

We made it all the way down and the crying stopped.  Magically.  Poor Caroline, all blotchy faced, just lay on me in pure exhaustion, snuffling and taking deep breaths to calm down.  We stood up and got our things together, ready to deplane.  The lady--that lady, as she had now become in my mind--had her bag several rows back.  Right near us.  You'd think she'd try to avoid eye contact, try to put it behind her and just get off the plane already.  I thought that's what she was going to do, and I even moved politely so that she could get her bag more easily.  That was me being the bigger person.

And then she looked straight at me.  And snarled.

"You really shouldn't do that to that baby."

Excuse me?  Do what?  Take her on an airplane?

A number of responses, all beginning with the phrase "How dare you", came to mind.  As rushing rage wound its way through my blood, I mumbled something, desperately trying to keep myself from shouting obscenities at her and from keeping my mom from punching the lady in the eye (which was a real possibility).  How could someone be so heartless, so mean, so...shameless?

And then she was gone.

She left me, a young mother with two tiny little girls, there to absorb the sting of her words, without giving us another thought.  We had ruined 10 minutes of her flight, and we deserved it.

I hate that this lady spoiled the end of this trip for us.  We should have come out of the airport beaming and sharing stories and shouting about all of the blessings we were given in that wonderful week.  Instead, we were weighed heavily with the cruelty of someone we didn't even know.  Even though we could brush her words off as ridiculous, it is weighty to glimpse the depravity of another.

But the heaviest weight of all?

Realizing that I am just like her.

Go with me all the way back to the beginning of this post for just a second.  As I said, I really didn't want to tell this story because I didn't want to give that lady any airtime in my mind or my heart or in my words.  I just thought she was deplorable enough not to warrant any further consideration.  And it's true.  This post is not about her.  Not really.

It's about all of us.  Me first.

As this story was unravelling, I was talking to myself (not out loud, mind you).  Wrestling back and forth in my mind:  "Who does that lady think she is?"  "What is her problem?"  "I hope something horrible happens to her on the way out of the airport."  "I hope something falls on her head."  "I hope that something falls on her head and then something else falls on her legs and pins her to the dirty ground."  "I hope that at that moment, one of those little airport cars drives by and rolls right over her."  "I hope that as all of this happens, I can be standing there to watch and laugh and tell everyone not to help her because she is such an awful human being."  "Please God, do something mean to her."

Gulp.  Guilty as charged.

And this one, the thought that I hung my hat on when all was said and done.  I said it like this in my head, "God, thank you that what goes around comes around."


It has taken me several days to unpack this thought in my head.  To realize that I really meant it.  To realize that I really believed (a.) that this is how God works and (b.) that this is how I want God to work.

If what goes around comes around, I have no desire to stick around for what is coming.  Because you know what?  Goodness and compassion and understanding will not be coming my way.  Even though I may not treat someone like that lady on an airplane, I have done things equally heartless, equally cruel, equally lacking in compassion.  And I enjoyed it.  Sure, you may say that she deserves all of this.  Clearly, I agree with you on some level.  But the more I think about it, the more I realize that she is not unique.  It is not that something in her is incorrectly wired to make her a mean, heartless human being.  It's that we're all wired that way.

What makes me think that I'm any better?

Luckily, even though my mind reverts to this "what goes around comes around" philosophy, I believe in a God who is not like this.  He sees that all of us (a world full of that guy and that lady screw-ups) just don't have it together.  We can't be kind.  We can't be understanding.  We try sometimes, and sometimes we don't.  But regardless, we can't do it.  And that's okay.  Because his justice system is not a karmic one, it's a gracious one.  It's distinctly a What Goes Around Does Not Come Around sort of system.

Thank you, God, for that.  Now I can rest easier.  Now I can be assured that my moment of meanness overpowering niceness will not come back and bite me on the way out of the airport.

Also.  Now I have the strength, the ability, the perspective, with which to forgive all of the that ladies in my life.

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