I fly a lot. Every week I get to travel and be with hurting people – people in need of an advocate. After a fairly successful work week I was moving through the corrals of airport security on my way home. There was a mom with two kids in front of me as we all sorted our things into plastic bins to be scanned and cued up for the screener. The mom and her son made it to the other side when an agent brought an elderly woman to the front of the line. The young girl (I am guessing about 11 years old) dutifully stepped back to allow this kind lady to proceed. The girl was out of her mother’s line of sight.
I wondered how the girl would react to being separated from her mom in a busy airport. She could have responded to this situation in so many different ways. I was impressed as this poised, young girl helped someone else’s grandma collect her things on the other side of the magnetometer. The girl had a gentle smile, was bright-eyed, and acted with the confidence that she was doing the right thing in that moment. The TSA Agent gave me a knowing look of approval as together we watched the multi-generational kindness before us. In that moment, the girl was perfect.
That is exactly how I would want my kids to respond.
Then the girl grabbed her bag and moved swiftly around the corner, obviously eager to be reunited with her mom and younger brother and tell them the story. I was only a step behind the girl as she rounded the corner to see her mom. Then I watched the mother impatiently snap at her daughter, “You have to keep up! What is wrong with you?” The girl’s countenance deflated before my eyes. Her shoulders dropped, her eyes dimmed, and she meekly fell in line as the trio walked to their gate. Together they sat for some time before boarding their flight. There had been no rush.
I am sure the mom had a stressful day traveling with kids and maybe the girl had frayed the mom’s last nerve by being habitually late. Unfortunately, the mother could only know what she observed from her perspective. She couldn’t see around corners. She couldn’t see her little girl serve a stranger in such a kind way.
I wonder how many times I react too quickly with incomplete knowledge – how many times my limited perspective prevents others from telling their stories. I wonder how many kids feel shut down and marginalized when they have something delightful to share. Perhaps we permanently label people based on the repeated pattern of past failures when they are trying to build new positive habits. The girl needed a hug or high five – not a reprimand. She needed time and space to talk in the midst of a busy day.
I wanted to be that little girl’s advocate, but did not know how.
As the mom and kids walked by me to board the plane, I said to the girl, “Nice job helping out at security.” She looked up at me with an awkward gaze and smiled. She seemed relieved that someone knew what had happened … as if it made the story more real.
None of us have X-ray vision. We cannot see around corners and we all have blind spots. Sadly, it seems that we give the people we love the most, the least relational space. More than giving people the benefit of the doubt or a fresh start, I want to be an advocate for giving them room to share their evolving story. When I reach the limits of my perspective, I want to make generous instead of negative assumptions. (tweet this)