We think we know one another. We think we can believe our eyes and what we see is real, right? Well not always and not this time. On a completely full flight from Atlanta to Washington DC a commotion of sorts erupted. It started calmly at first. The commotion was between an aging African American female dressed impeccably and it appeared a mostly 20 something age flight crew. The plane had not pulled away from the gate and nearly everyone including myself was hastily in or moving toward their seat for a targeted on time departure.
If anyone was really listening that day they would of heard an escalating dialogue mostly between the aging black woman and an extremely poised young black female flight attendant. Sporadically other young attendants would interject themselves into the exchange, saying things like, "I understand, let us take care of it, we apologize, please let us try to fix it." Trouble is, outside of talking, at least as far as the aging woman was concerned, nothing was being done. It appeared she was beginning to take it personal, very personal.
When I reached my seat 36E (a middle seat) I could hear the aging black woman yell, "Then do something, take care of it!" She went on to say with what can only be described as a scream, "I am a federal employee! Is this how you treat a 27 year federal employee?!"
I know what happened next because I was standing right there. The aging black woman ranted loud enough for everyone to hear, "They are wrong just wrong. I have a paid ticket with an assigned seat of 11C, an aisle seat. Somebody else is in that seat. Then they hand me this raggedy piece of paper for another seat, 37E! The person in my seat has a raggedy piece of paper showing my seat number 11C. This is all wrong and someone needs to fix it!"
For the next few minutes, more commotion, more awkwardness, listening to the pure emotion coming from this situation. Not enough time to take sides, everything is by now happening so quickly. Most of the anxious flight attendants seemed to be moving beyond help mode to avoidance mode, but not the young black flight attendant, she is undaunted, completely present and resolved, doing with helpful words all she could do to keep things under control.
Almost out of nowhere a flight representative, likely someone who handed the aging black woman her on board ticket, comes onto the plane. She walks straight up to where the black woman is standing and says you will need to take your assigned seat. Before you know it, another, now clearly agitated, young black male flight attendant says, "Maam are you flying with us today or would you like to leave the plane?"
Showing shocking disbelief, the aging black woman takes her newly assigned middle seat. She goes on about wanting the names of everyone involved, writing grievance letters to the airline and even getting her lawyer to file an official complaint.
For the rest of the 90 minute flight, I tried to process what I had encountered and here is where the point of all of this starts and ends for me.
Would it surprise you to know that the aging black woman has been married to the same man most of her adult life, he a retired school teacher and she a accomplished medical doctor who has traveled the world in service of others? Would it surprise you to know she is 65 years old traveling on business, a very highly sought expert in her field?
Would it surprise you to know that the young black undaunted, kind, controlled, undeterred flight attendant, trying to be ever so helpful, was beginning her very first day on the job? Yes, this Atlanta to DC encounter was her first flight as a flight attendant. Did you know that the other flight attendants told her you don't have to go back to that part of the plane again? You can work the front of the plane and she responded, "No. I have a job to do and I want to do it with excellence."
Did you know that the reason 11C, the last seat on the plane, became the "spark" in all of this was because that seat, 11C, was given at the last minute to an armed flight marshall in response to some specific threat to that flight? And did you know that no one could tell the aging, hurt, accomplished, respected, angry, disappointed, confused, black woman this because it was a matter of national security for not only her but everyone on that plane? So the mystery white man, a federal employee just like her, holding the raggedy piece of paper in "her" seat with 11C written on it was there for all of us, protecting all the seats and people in them.
I am not sure of the moral of this story but I do know this. Life is complicated, the eyes see what the eyes want to see. The ears hear what the ears want to hear. But the heart is stronger than all gifts and can change not only what we hear but how we see it.