Americans are a quirky bunch. Our hearts bleed when we see others in crisis, especially when it’s on a larger scale, and we rush to help. Friends of neighbors have a house fire? No sweat. We rush to our attics and dig out all the outgrown clothes, extra blankets, and old pots and pans we can find. Walk past a Christmas tree filled with ornaments listed with needs for disadvantaged children? We grab two or three without blinking. Earthquake in Haiti? We’re there. Kids collect coins and take them to school, adults pitch in cash to their local churches, and teams of people assemble to go do something, anything.

Put an American in an airport, though, and he gets prickly. Don’t encroach on his space. Don’t get near him with your bag. If you’re standing on the moving walkway, press yourself flat on the right side so there’s no chance of bumping one of the walkers on the left. And horror of horrors, don’t touch him inadvertently when trying to use the shared armrest on an airplane; you won’t see a faster recoil.

The sad thing is that I often feel myself turning into one of those airport monsters, too. I want to move fast and get to my next point with supreme efficiency, to make sure I have adequate time to, er, wait. I wonder when I forgot to be human–and to accommodate the humanness of others. It’s okay to brush shoulders with people, really. And maybe the slow-moving person in front of me is doing all she can; do I really need to move so fast (tight connections excluded)?

It warmed my heart yesterday to see two late-middle aged women having breakfast in the F terminal in the Minneapolis airport. One of them interrupted their shared conversation to ask an elderly woman with a cane, who was leaving the counter with her arms full, if she needed help. That woman didn’t forget to be human. And even though I hadn’t seen the elderly woman myself, it made me feel guilty. I still have some humanness in my heart, and next time I’ll be the one asking.

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