Jameel's recent post about the El Al plane with the wrong tires has prompted me to share yet another travel story from your friend the Road Warrior.
A few weeks ago, I had boarded a flight at JFK, bound for SFO (that's San Francisco for the less-traveled). As I was walking towards my seat (always aisle), I looked ahead to see who I would be sitting next to. This was going to be an interesting flight I thought to myself as I noticed a Christian Monk sitting in the Window seat. Well, I'm assuming he was a Christian Monk, only because he was dressed in a long flowing robe, had a shaved head, was wearing a kind of kippah on his head, and there was a huge wooden cross hanging from his neck.
In reality, I have countless stories about conversations I've had around the topic of religion and Judaism (you'd think I work for AISH or something), and so I naturally assumed that I'd be spending the next few hours engaged in an active discussion. Boy was I wrong. I sat down, said the friendliest hello (he responded in kind), and then the fun began.
The plane was pretty full and just the last few stragglers were boarding. The flight was totally full and this guy walks on carrying what seemed like 5 carry on bags. Of course, this individual proceeds to open all the overheads to find space, and of course, it's a futile search. Yet, the man persists. Dave Barry jokes about people trying to stuff pianos into the overhead compartments, but this was no joke. He stops right above us and peers into the overhead. The man moves a few things around and then lifts his bag and proceeds to JAM them in.
The monk sitting next to me obviously had a bag in that overhead compartment because he seemed particularly annoyed at this guy jamming more stuff on top of his. Then the guy takes yet another one of this bags and jams it into the overhead. Then the monk reaches across me and pokes the guy in the aisle. He says "hey, what's your problem, there's no room up there." Then the monk starts cursing under his breath and calls the guy an idiot. I admit I was a bit taken aback by that reaction -- I guess I didn't expect to see or hear such a response from this gentleman. But whatever. I now turned back to the book I was reading as everyone took their seats and we were getting ready to back away from the gate.
Then the pilot gets on the PA and tells us that during a final walk around the aircraft, they found a cut in one of the tires. The tire would have to be replaced. No worries though -- the plane could be jacked up and the tire replaced without us having to leave the plane, but the process could take up to an hour.
The monk besides me just lost it at that point. He was livid. He was cursing (louder now) and I really didn't even know how to respond. I tend to use humor to help me deal with many of life's challenges, and so I remarked, "well, I guess it's better than having to try to change the tire in the air". The monk did not think that was funny at all. I thought he was going to hit me. I buried by head back in my book.
The monk apparently had his cell phone in his bag which was up in the overhead compartment, and he mumbled an excuse me as he stepped over me to get to the aisle. As he dug for his bag and his phone, he gave plenty of nasty glances to the guy across the row who had jammed all of his bags on top of the monk's bag.
Finally, the monk sat back down, visibly frustrated. He didn't say another word the entire flight. In fact, he took his blanket and wrapped it completely around his head and went to sleep. Odd behavior indeed.
I was struck by two things as this story unfolded before me.
One, I totally did not expect such behavior from this person. I kept thinking about how a Rav might respond to similar circumstances. For some reason, I just couldn't picture the same responses and behaviors. It brought to mind a lesson once learned that you can dress to look like something or someone, but that is just the outside appearance. The inside is what really counts. As Jews, we hold ourselves to different standards, and while we dress differently, that means nothing unless we ACT differently as well.
Two, I realized that I was judging this person. Maybe it was his first time flying, or maybe he was just a really nervous flyer? Maybe he had a bad day? Maybe there were other challenges he was dealing with at the time? But WHY was I judging him? Obviously, it was because of the way he was dressed. Plenty of other people on the plane had similar reactions to this man (especially so when we were informed of the hour delay), but those reactions didn't bother me at all. Yet, because this man was dressed a certain way, I expected a certain behavior from him. Is that wrong? I don't know. Maybe.
But more importantly, it made me realize that because of the way I dress -- wearing a yarmulka wherever I go -- causes other people to look at me and expect a certain kind of behavior as well. Like it or not, I'm sure I'm judged differently by others. Even if it isn't a conscious thing, but it happens. And not necessarily for bad things either (I know that in business for example, anytime a coworker or associate uses foul language, they will always turn to me and apologize). Knowing this makes me realize that I have to act differently as well -- both on the outside, and also on the inside.
Wherever I am, my blog turns towards Eretz Yisrael