A ceramic oak leaf sits on the wall of my kitchen. Sometime ago, I began placing on the individual oak leaves the tiny, folded paper tags, the kind that are stapled to the string attached to tea bags, with words of wisdom that made the “wise saying cut” from my tea bags.
A couple of weeks ago, my tea bag told, “the only tool you need is kindness.” I read it aloud and brushed it off quite casually. I might have used an expletive in my sarcastic “yeah right” response.
But the phrase stayed with me. It echoed in my mind in response to an increasing number of events. What had at first glance appeared absurdly oversimplified was became relevant to situations and interactions I experienced on a near daily basis.
I will never doubt you again, oh wise and mighty tea bag.
Those words came to mind in situations where kindness could have helped to avoid misunderstanding, hurt, aggressive, and defensive behavior. And each time, I began composing sentences to share.
The most recent occurrence was too hilarious not to share; and so, as the land of a hundred shades of green slips away while an airplane speeds its way toward American soil, I sit and write.
The washroom is typically the first place I seek upon arrival at a destination. Arriving at my gate at the Vancouver airport proved no exception. I found the women’s room, left a small deposit, and paused on my way out to fill my water bottle at the water fountain.
As I was leaving, a somewhat rotund woman walked past me. on her top half, she wore a dark t-shirt with large words written in all caps in font that looked like small pieces of masking tape all connected to let the world know, “JESUS SAVES.”
I slowed my step en route to the water fountain to ponder these words.
What exactly did Jesus save?
Did he get exceptionally good deals at the store?
Or was he ecologically and earth-minded, saving natural resources?
I walked back to the gate and found an empty seat. As I set down my belongings, an older gentleman told me, “Ma’am, my wife is sitting there.”
Me: Oh, I am sorry. I did not see her. Maybe, she is invisible?
Man: She is not here. She is in the restroom. I should have put my bags over the chair.
Sarcastic side note: This made sense because clearly he needed to take over three chairs for two people. Their bags must have had sensitivities making it necessary for them to occupy an entire third chair of a busy waiting area all on their own.
Me: Ah, and thus that explains why she is invisible to me.
Of course, I was entirely joking, but my words seemed lost on this fellow.
The people on the other side looked at me and smiled.
“You can sit here,” a large woman with short, white hair told me and gestured to the chair.
Me: That’s ok. Thank you. I can sit over here, and I proceeded to move my belongings over by the wall and sit down.
I settled down, took out my phone, and began recounting the hilarity of the event via email to my sibling. About ten minutes went by, and I began wondering if the wife really was indeed invisible. Perhaps, I should not have made a joke at the man’s expense, particularly as he was suffering from delusions. I should have been more understanding.
Then, I began wondering if the wife was the woman who was destined to be saved by Jesus.
My premonition was correct. A few moments later, she returned and sat down. The man immediately pointed to me (I smiled) and began telling her the story in loud tones.
I smiled to myself. It was a pretty funny situation, and I was glad that I was on the comedic, experiential side. The older I get, the less seriously I take myself.
The woman stood up and walked toward the window.
W (short for woman): I don’t see nothin’ out there. The plane ain’t here yet.
There have been occasions when I have been endeared by a southern drawl, but this was not one of them. My slight horror stemmed from a combination of twang, poor language, grammar, and sentence structure, clothing advertising religious beliefs, and exclusionary behavior.
I freely admit that I place judgment on people (you cannot seriously tell me that you do not). My judgment is inspired by action. I tend toward a benefit of the doubt practice until actions prove otherwise. I am more than happy to allow people to redeem themselves through kindness. I have had my own fair share on less than stellar moments in situations where I am tired, hungry, and cranky.
No sooner had the woman walked to the window but another woman came and sat down in her seat. I watched. The man said nothing.
Nonplussed, I gave my head a figurative scratch.
Perhaps, the man had not taken kindly to my appearance? It is easy to place judgment on appearance. Maybe, he was ageist? I do look very young.
Soon, my thoughts moved on to other musings, and I forgot about the saved couple.
The plane arrived, passengers filed off, and my flight began boarding.
As I handed my boarding pass and passport to the attendant, I noticed the couple going through the same motions in tandem to my right. What are the odds that they might be seated near me, I speculated?
At my seat, I looked up to find a place to store my ukulele. No room in the overhead compartments to my left and right, so I turned around and saw a possible space just behind me. The couple was right behind me, and when I asked if I might just put the instrument up there quickly, the fellow responded that it might be easier if he walked by me first.
I can tell you that there was nothing easy about this interchange as he was actually quite a bit larger standing than he had first appeared when seated at the gate. I am fairly tiny, so people walking past basically means that I get pushed, poked, prodded, and generally shoved out of the aisle into the first available space, which is often another passenger’s lap. This kind of intimate behavior is something I generally avoid with strangers, but the man did not give me time to protest.
Operation safely store ukulele complete, I returned to my seat. And lo and behold, the Jesus couple was seated directly behind me! Ah universe, you are a funny one.
The man proceeded to joke with passengers walking by about how cold it had been on their cruise.
Who would have thought it would be cold in California?
They certainly made a killing in sweatshirts.
Ha ha ha ha ha.
Quite riveting dialogue, I have to say.
They quieted down when the flight attendants began their safety presentation. Oxygen masks, locating of exits, etc. etc.
I turned around and found the exit sign behind me, just as the attendant had suggested might be possible.
Back in my seat, facing forward, it occurred to me that sitting close to this couple could be to my benefit.
In an emergency situation, clear signage can be very helpful and important. In some cases, it might even make the difference between life and death.
I realized that should there be an emergency during the flight and Jesus happened to appear (because he has a propensity for miraculous acts and for “saving” people), he would perhaps take a quick glance over the crowd, hone in on the black JESUS SAVES t-shirt with white text, and be-line it for the devout couple.
On his way, he might notice with his peripheral vision, one of his own kind, a tiny Jew with a curly, thick fro. Sure, he could be thrown by my lack of ecumenically, zealous attire (unless he prefers people to be authentic rather than creating his identity for him and marketing that identity via material possessions). My own zeal tends toward the human relationship with the earth. I wear clothing with handmade screen prints of animals and plants, and around my neck I wore two necklaces—one a long, piece of leather with a metal pendant that had tiny feet imprinted on it; the other a silver chain with a dream catcher. I wear them when I fly for good luck and protection.
Clearly, the universe had placed me in front of this couple to ensure my safety in the event of a crisis. Universe, you never cease to amaze and surprise me.
So then, what is the lesson to be learned form this encounter?
I return to tea bag wisdom and the importance of kindness.
There were multiple scenarios in which kindness could have been employed and all parties may have experienced less stress and possible alienation.
The following represent a couple possibilities:
1) The man could have recognized that three seats in a crowded area was decadent and made room for me to use the third chair.
2) I could have followed my joke about invisible people with the words, “I was just joking” and a smile.
While waiting to deplane in Utah, I realized I should have clarified my intentions. I heard the woman thank Jesus for something, followed by the words, “I hope I am not invisible.”
I laughed inwardly.
Following the wisdom of my tea bag, I refrained from explaining the concept of comedy to them or trying to clarify that they did indeed realize that Jesus was a Jew and thus the foundation of their religious beliefs was quite shaky.
Instead, I simply turned around to let them know (in case they had thought they were communicating telepathically to one another) that people can hear them when they speak and gave them the most charming smile I could muster.
Silly people. Taking themselves (and Jesus) so seriously.
As I walked down the jetway, I heard the man explaining to his wife that the trip took so little time because airplanes are so fast. I was not disappointed to miss the remainder of the dialogue.
At least, this was a relatively harmless situation. Unfortunately, I have several experiences each day where I am left uncomfortable, hurt, shocked, or downright angry when a simple gesture of kindness could have healed all.
Thank you, tea bag, for teaching me a valuable lesson. In future, I will try my best to remember and practice kindness as much as possible.