If the First Will Finish Last, Why Do We Follow Losers

Al Andrews

Okay, I’ll admit it. I don’t like to stand in lines. I go early to movies and avoid going to the post office where lines are standard fare. And if I do stand in a line, I prefer to be close to the front. That’s why when I fly Southwest, I pay an extra $10 a ticket to get in the A group. (Not only do I despise lines, I also hate middle seats.)

Coming home from a trip recently, I was standing in my “A” line in the Southwest terminal. My boarding pass number was A-29. I can’t tell you how pleased I was with that number, assuring me of my beloved aisle seat.

As I was standing in my little section marked “25-30,” I happened to glance down at the boarding pass the woman several folks in front of me was holding, not that I usually do this sort of thing. There it was as clear as day – “A-30.” And she was standing at the very front of the 25-30 section.

*Photo by David Morris, Creative Commons

I felt something rise up in me that I’d rather not admit. I thought, “Who does she think she is?” and “Somebody needs to tell her to move to her spot and get in the correct order.” A strong sense of entitlement grew and I began to think about how rude she was, and how I belonged in front of her and she behind me. I began to fantasize what it would be like to tell her to move.

And then I heard an inner whisper that said, “Walk behind.” I recognized the words from the 24 Spiritual Principles followed by my friends at Magdalene House, a place where women come off the streets and find hope. “Walk behind” is one of the guiding rules on how they live with grace and hope, adapted from the ancient rules of St. Benedict.

In a moment, everything changed. I smiled a sheepish “you got caught” smile. I was humbled by my ridiculous thoughts, my speedy judgment, my sense of what I deserved – a ludicrous need to be in front. All of this angry energy was poured into the belief that I needed to be ahead of this woman who was probably unaware of where she was in line. And she was certainly not the member of the Neo-Nazi party that I was making her out to be.

If I look at my life, there are quite a few people in front of me. I have friends who have written and sold many more books than I have. I know others who have large crowds that come to hear them speak. Most of those in the known world have more Twitter followers.

On a day when I follow the “rule,” I’m fine with that. I rejoice at the successes of others, happy for their place in line and satisfied with my own. I can even cheer them on, encouraging them in their journey. And if they need it, they can have my seat or my spot in whatever line has formed.

When I veer from the rule, I am an envious man and want to find ways to get ahead, to sit at the table with the cool people, and to make my way to the front, all the while becoming who I don’t want to be.

I will still pay my $10 to get a better seat on Southwest. But I’m going to commit to keep my eyes off of my neighbors boarding passes. I know where I belong and if I forget, I only have to remember two simple words that invite me to a kinder life.

Al Andrews

Al Andrews

This is a post by Al Andrews, one of the Storyline Contributors. Pick up a copy of his latest book, A Walk One Winter Night on Amazon and make sure to follow along on Twitter (@itsalandrews) for regular updates. To read more of his posts on the Storyline Blog, click here.