Thankfully, I do not fly often. I enjoy being home and always try to be mindful of my carbon footprint.
When I do fly, I enjoy the opportunity to dig into good books without interruption. Sometimes, I enjoy a movie or conversation with a seat-mate. I commonly have epiphanies from these books, in-flight movies, or seat partner conversations.
On my flight this last week, I carried three books with me: Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Winona LaDuke Chronicles by Winona LaDuke, and America: The Farewell Tour by Chris Hedges. I read a bit of two of them and then decided to watch a movie. I picked Birth of a Nation.
Due to my reading and the short flight, I knew I was only going to get halfway through the movie. As we landed, I reflected on my whiteness, the privileges afforded me by the great oppressions of my ancestors — oppressions that continue to be upheld by society today. I think and act motivated by my critical whiteness.
Whenever I review our nation's history and the lies that are told to lessen the brutality of oppression and slavery, I wonder how much truth our hearts can take. I dream about the process of uncovering, of reconciliation, of rebuilding from such brutality. I dream about healing each and every one of us. I know highly privileged people who chose to ignore the burden of our history. I know people who start to scratch the surface and are scared of what they find. I know people who dig themselves away from trusting anyone and I know people who are angry. To really look deeply at something so troubling as the making of the United States and to continue on despite what one finds is an art rooted in faith and justice.
My seat companion (George) and I chatted on the return flight. During a brief conversation, I learned he was the father of three and from a family of seven siblings. Retired from both the Navy and Alaska Airlines he is now working on his third career. He spoke of supporting his family, financially caring for his mother-in-law, and sharing as much as possible with loved ones.
Once we reached altitude, George watched his wife’s suggestion of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri and I continued watching Birth of a Nation. Our movies ended in time to allow for more conversation.
George and I talked about the over-inflated cost of living in Seattle. He told me the cost to rent his small studio apartment in the southend of Seattle. He wondered how any working family earning $15/hr could afford to make ends meet. Then he shared something I hadn't considered — $15/hr doesn't matter if the cost of living continues to rise out of reach. He also talked about a rental he owns in Arkansas. The property manager told him it was worth $1,500.00 per month and he settled on $1,100.00 per month. That amount would be enough to cover his mortgage and her fees while offering a break to a working family in stressful financial times. He backed that decision up saying money is not everything.
We both agreed that no one person should be allowed to amass too much wealth. We chatted about the societal addiction to money, the blessing of a loving family, dual retirement plans, and being born at a time when that kind of wealth was attainable to some in our country. He spoke of the over-inflated salaries of CEOs.
It seemed funny to have this conversation with someone I didn't know and would've never expected to be thinking these thoughts — a white male. I was thankful for his insights, some of which I had never considered. I will continue to look for and appreciate all that I can learn when traveling.
Can you have big conversations with strangers? Do you think these conversations make an impact? How do the transgressions of our ancestors or the injustices that continue today motivate your daily thoughts and actions? Do you have any ideas about how we can come together for truth and reconciliation?