Time to #BeAMensch

Let’s share some happy stories, shall we?

If you listened to The Woman in White over on the CraftLit podcast, you might recall that while I recorded the second episode we were still living in Tucson—and that I recorded right after Gabrielle Giffords was shot at the market just down the street from our house. Back then, my response was to write a Mom-(and Dad)-Brigade post about disengaging without dissing, tuning out the crazy, and noticing (with pleasure) how many non-crazy people surround us every day.

As I see more verified posts like this, but live in a world surrounded by wonderful people like my CraftLit listeners, I find myself moved to share some happier moments — and hope to hear some from you, too! I’m tagging mine #BeAMensch**. If you have happy stories to share, please call them in to the CraftLit caller line (206–350–1642) or consider using the same hashtag wherever you post your stories online. It would be nice to have a news stream to follow that reminds us of how good we can be to each other.

So, to get the ball rolling and share a tiny bit of good that seems to be getting overwhelmed by the scary, I offer you this small moment of sanity I witnessed:

On our way back from Thanksgiving Saturday night, we climbed aboard the parking shuttle in PHL and sat there — pretty tired from family, fun, and travel — while the shuttle made a few more stops, gradually filling to capacity with several people standing.
As the final group trudged in, I noticed everyone’s eyes glued to a young Arab man — with his wife preceding him — who stashed their so-incredibly-bright-and-garish-that-you-will-never-miss-this-on-a-baggage carousel luggage next to me on the lower rack. It was fascinating watching everyone on the shuttle silently make note of several facts:
  • Arab
  • Young couple
  • Loud luggage
  • Very polite
  • Whispering with each other and pretty obviously trying to be invisible
It’s impossible not to guess at what was flashing through many of the minds on that tram — both those seated and the couple themselves — but just as quickly I saw the passengers push the knee-jerk thoughts aside. There was no threat. (Duh.) There were flickers of embarrassment on faces, though, as all of that registered.
Then I noticed that a dark skinned woman with a soft French accent, standing to my left next to the full luggage racks, was having a hard time trying to arrange her bags while holding onto the rail. An older gentleman with a soft Indian accent started to stand across from me, asking her if she would like his seat. She smiled, but demurred (she’d been “sitting on the plane for a long time”).
At the same moment, a white woman, seated across from me between her husband and the polite man (her eyes 100% glued to Bejeweled on her smartphone —) shoved her husband with her elbow and said, “Geez, you didn’t offer your seat! What’s wrong with you?” He shrugged and mumbled, “No manners?” which started everyone laughing.
With relief.
I was able to help the standing woman stow her heaviest bag near me where there was room, the Arab couple now sitting in back near my husband were noticeably less deer-in-the-headlights, and the wife of the Indian gentleman had leaned forward to laugh with the Bejeweled player about how nice it was to see anyone offer a seat to anyone any more.

I know that some people will decry the pause taken by people on the tram to process the fact that the young Arab man wasn’t a threat, etc etc, but I’m loathe to let the perfect be the enemy of the good right now. What I saw was good. I can’t change how people think inside their head — particularly when so many other voices are screaming bile at us — but I think we can legitimately expect people to behave decently to each other — regardless any other factors. We can, at the very least, be civil. I think, for a multi-racial, multi-ethnic, post-election encounter, our little tram-load did pretty okay at being decent humans. (Certainly better than this, or God help us, this.)

I look forward to your stories of even better random acts of decency and kindness. #BeAMensch

*(NB: mensch: n. Yiddish, decent, upright, mature person who knows how to behave her or himself and also knows how to help others)
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