Fellow Travelers

June 25, 2019 @ 10:27 am | Filed under:

airport flight departure board showing a series of delayed flights

My flight home from Cincinnati on Sunday evening was cancelled, along with a zillion other flights. As I stood in a serpentine line of frustrated passengers awaiting information about how long and how difficult it would be for them to return to their loved ones, all I could think about was the children taken into custody at the border, spending uncertain days, weeks, even months in the panic of separation, with minimal attention to basic needs (sub-minimal really, per the comments of officials who say soap and toothbrushes aren’t basic necessities).

I stood at a counter while a woman who probably hadn’t had a pee break in hours patiently looked up options to get me home a day late. Her son lives in Portland but she is seldom able to visit because traveling is difficult and expensive. On either side of me, angry customers grew heated, raising their voices, anxious and panicked, worried about where they were going to sleep and all the complicated logistics of delaying an arrival. I saw weary faces, distraught faces, furious faces, ill faces. I saw a mother with small, sobbing children and knew she was in for a rough night.

All around me was a sense of: this isn’t fair, this isn’t right, we deserve better than this.

I stood there feeling terribly aware of my privilege. Getting home a day late did screw me up more than a little—work, family stuff. But I understood how fortunate I was. Unlike the majority of cancelled flights that evening, mine was delayed due to a maintenance problem, which meant Delta accepted responsibility and gave me a Marriott voucher & two meal vouchers. Hail in Dallas was the culprit behind most of the other cancellations, which meant all those people had to shoulder the hotel and food costs themselves. I had work waiting for me at home, but I work for myself and knew I wouldn’t be getting in trouble with my boss for not showing up on time. I had children waiting for me at home, but I knew Scott had everything handled and my extended absence wouldn’t leave a kid’s needs unmet. I knew other Brave Writer staff retreat attendees were also having to stay an extra night–three of them in the same hotel as me!–meaning I got to enjoy more time in their company, laughing and sharing our homeschooling mom stories. I left the counter knowing I’d have to get up at 4 the next morning to make my new flight, but that I’d be able to nap when I got home.

All those things I knew, as I stood there waiting to hear what my fate would be, were examples of privilege. If my flight had been cancelled for weather reasons, I’d have had to shoulder the hotel costs myself, and that would have thrust me into as much anxiety as everyone around me. I knew the delay would mean some overcrowded hours when I finally got home–I have a tight workload this week and more travel next week. My shoulders and back ached from hauling my luggage. But compared to the misery of people all around me, I knew I was lucky. More than lucky.

I found myself wanting to cry out to everyone around me—as I’m pouring it out to you here—See! See! See how devastating it is when our plans are disrupted for a single night? See how much it matters that we know where we’ll sleep and when we’ll see our families again?

It’s so easy—TOO easy—to become immersed in the swirling ups and downs of my own life, my own small circle. And it’s easy to give in to the worries that my efforts to turn my gaze, and other people’s gazes, wider, speaking out, reading up, making calls day after day—my worries that those things alienate or annoy people I care about. A legitimate worry, since one of my best friends admitted she unfollowed me on Facebook due to my activist posts.

But I stood there in that line and I sat there on that plane knowing privilege demands responsible action, even if action comes at a cost. And action begins with awareness (but awareness isn’t nearly enough, not by a mile).

Every minute of delay was a misery to my fellow passengers. Every minute in detention is exponentially more miserable—and in many cases, deadly—to the people our country is holding in tent cities and detention centers because they dared to take us at our word when we proudly declared ourselves to be a land of the free where all men are created equal and have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

I couldn’t wear my contacts all weekend because their case leaked on the plane and they dried into crisp husks. I had to live without contacts for four days. Imagine—oh! really! close your eyes and imagine, try to place yourself there—imagine sitting for a single day in a chilled and cheerless room without access to a warm blanket, a toothbrush, necessary medicine; without freedom to leave, without contact with people who care about you.

Imagine, and then pick up the phone and call your electeds. I’m begging you from the bottom of my heart.

Help a detained immigrant in your area
How to contact your elected officials

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7 Reponses | Comments Feed
  1. Penelope says:

    “What you do for the least of these, you do for me …”

    Lissa, thank you for writing this. Thank you for your passion and daring. Thank you for standing up.

  2. Abigail Benjamin says:

    Thank you. The act of mercy for “welcoming the stranger” is missing right now.

  3. Dori says:

    Thank you, thank you, Lissa. The lack of compassion and care for the most vulnerable victims of this crisis is horrific. How anyone who has ever cared for a child (or a pet, for that matter) could find treating children in such a way to be acceptable is just beyond my heart’s comprehension. Much love to you for speaking up.

  4. Susanne Barrett says:

    I appreciate your activism, Lissa!! I have an elderly poet friend here in Pine Valley who is an activist in social justice and environmental issues. She writes about these awful problems wholeheartedly and profoundly, definitely keeping me on my toes. I hope I’m like her once I reach my 80s (and preferably long before!!).

    Lucy, Jean, Deb, and I ended up at a Courtyard Marriott about 15 miles from the airport although when Jean made the reservations. When we arrived at the airport, I found that I had somehow made my reservation for Tuesday morning, not Monday! Yikes!! Some very unhelpful American Airlines reservation agents wanted me to pay $200 to switch flights but then told me that there were no more flights for the rest of the day. Deb, whose flight wasn’t leaving until 5:15 PM but who came to the airport with us to the airport at 6 AM anyway, advocated for me the best she could (I’m not sure I wanted to hear what she told them, but she was NOT happy, and an unhappy Deb is quite the empowered woman!).

    I called the American 800 number and the sweetest Southern lady got me on a flight (no extra charge) leaving in 40 minutes. It was Lucy’s flight, actually. As she volunteered for a later flight since she had a long layover in Chicago, I likely took her seat. (She received a voucher for a free flight later on, so she was pleased on the whole.) The young man pushing my wheelchair raced through security and to the plane, and, blessedly I was landing in San Diego by noon. Quite the journey!! Glad to be HOME! Praying for the little ones who have no home and are separated from their families right now!!

    It was a joy and a delight to meet you at long last, Lissa!! 🙂

    Susanne 🙂

  5. Adrianne Martin says:

    Very moving Lissa. Thank you.

  6. Penny says:

    You are amazing in so many ways.


  7. Karen Edmisten says:

    Yes, yes, a thousand times yes to all of this.

    “I’m begging you from the bottom of my heart” —
    those are words I’ve actually written to my state senators and our representative. We have so much privilege, but we don’t have the luxury to stop trying to do and advocate for what’s right.