It’s A Long Trip. Don’t Get Scared Along The Way.

They were still here! I had hoped that they would have gone down another aisle, stood in a different line, exited from some other door, but, they were still here! I had watched this couple, normally about five to ten feet in front of me, since we hit customs. And now, we appeared to be heading for the same plane. My concern was hardly rational. I didn’t stare at them, but I knew where they were at all times. We boarded the aircraft, a big plane, one that took awhile to fill. And then he fell ill. The couple was escorted from the plane. I approached a flight attendant to verify whether their luggage was going to be removed from below. I had already made up my mind that I wasn’t taking that flight if the luggage wasn’t retrieved. United was one step ahead of me. They were searching the cargo hold for the suitcases. We were delayed awhile on the tarmac. The rest of the flight was uneventful.

The above paragraph is totally true. The date was May 2000, a year plus before 9/11. I was coming back from an Alaskan cruise. The couple in question was French Canadian. Fight or Flight. It is smart to be aware of our surroundings and to trust our survival skills.

Juan Williams, former NPR commentator and now $2 million Fox News martyr, confessed last week on Bill O’Reilly’s show that he is perpetually afraid. A major fear of his is Muslims. “I mean, look, Bill, I’m not a bigot,” Williams said on the “The O’Reilly Factor” Monday. “But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.” That admission got him fired from NPR.

There are three problems with this:

1) This is the United States. You have the G-d given right to stick your thumb in your mouth, roll into a fetal position, and cry for your mommy whenever you encounter someone different. We may be the home of the brave, but bravery isn’t a requirement for citizenship.

2) The Muslims that hijacked the planes on September 11th, like Timothy McVey, the murderer who engineered the slaughter at Oklahoma City, dressed like average Americans. They looked like everyone else.

3) “They are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims”? Priests self-identify as Catholics. Nuns in habits, too. What about Orthodox Rabbi’s? Do these people make Juan nervous?

A huge contract not withstanding, it would really suck to be Juan Williams. You can not live your life afraid of everyone who is different than you and your family.

My son got married last Friday. Rabbi Susan Stone conducted a lovely ceremony for Phillip and Allison in the Japanese Garden of the Cleveland Botanical Gardens. Unless her family had rented Fiddler on the Roof, most of my new daughter’s family and friends had never seen a Jewish wedding. When Phil broke the glass, they all shouted “Mazel Tov” as per Rabbi Stone’s instruction.

My son doesn’t love just Allison. He is friends with her brother, Clayton, who introduced them and he respects and admires her parents, Anita and Bill. We, however, are strangers. Before last week we had had one dinner in Marietta, where all of them live, and talked once or twice. We are very different and we lead very different lives.

This is not a value judgment. In fact, during the reception at Hiroshi’s Pub, Anita and I were talking about self-reliance. Where I am comfortable hiring people to do physical labor and skilled tasks, they learned how to do a number of things well. Anita’s mother made an intricate three layer wedding cake. Anita is skilled at floral arrangement. The corsages and boutonnieres were beautiful and imaginative. I expressed my hope that Phil would learn how to find the joy in accomplishing new tasks.

But, as I said, they are different.

The dinner reception was about over and Bill was given the check. He tried to hide his shock as he passed it to his wife. They turned to the waiter and said that there must be a mistake. The waiter replied that it was correct. Bill and Anita were visibly shaken. They passed the bill across the table to me.

I expected to see some mistaken overcharge. I feared that I would see the correct amount, but that it was more than what they had anticipated even though I had negotiated the price with my client in advance. No, the check was ridiculously low, about one third of what it should have been. I instructed the waiter to go back and get a corrected statement.

The waiter returned a few minutes later. Both Hiroshi, the owner, and Mike, the general manager, were out of the restaurant. The assistant manager confirmed the total amount due. Again, Bill insisted on a corrected check. He would not take advantage of an obvious error. I sent the waiter back with instructions to call Mike. Five minutes later, the waiter returned with the correct check.

Like Juan Williams, you may fear and distrust the Other, the people who aren’t like you. But you are the Other to them. It’s a long trip and you shouldn’t be scared all through this journey of life. We are different, Bill and I, you and I, all of us. We can spend our time counting and categorizing our differences, or we can learn to appreciate people for who they are. We could easily miss such attributes as honesty and shared values, if all of our attention is drawn to our dissimilarities.

My son has married into a new family and I couldn’t be happier.

The waitress was bringing in a beer as the happy couple posed for pictures by the wedding cake. Sally turned, caught the waitress off guard, and the glass crashed to the floor. The entire room yelled “Mazel Tov”.


The water seemed calmer when I was in the boat. Dutifully wearing my life vest, I am bobbing in Lake Erie. My friend Sandy is about ten to fifteen feet away. The boat is close to her. Sandy is holding a rope tied to her boat. The boat is tied to nothing. The sails are down, the engine off. No anchor. No one aboard. The waves push me in one direction, the boat in another. “Don’t drift too far”, I hear her say.

This could be the beginning of a larger treatise about being adrift. This could all be a metaphor for the times in our lives when we feel overwhelmed and unable to control our environment. This could even be a parable about personal growth through conquering one’s fears. But it is not.

I am calmer than the water. I trust my life preserver, my friend, and my ability to swim to the boat. I flip on to my back and paddle, with a little effort, back to Sandy and her rope.