November 16, 2007

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

The freebie that entertains and educates us

Cynthia DewesPeople-watching is one of those things we all love to do.

Not only is it free, but also it can be uplifting and even educational.

Airports are some of the best places for it since we usually have to spend time there waiting for connections. Instead of being bored or eating junk, we can eliminate some of the stress of modern travel just by looking around.

We sympathize with the parents of the tired little kids, the ones turning rubbery in protest when anyone tries to pick them up. They cry those fake sobs, snuffle wetly and throw things around until, much to everyone’s relief, they conk out asleep on a lap or curled in a lounge chair.

Sometimes we seethe when three of the four people seated near us jabber at length on their cell phones, apparently to people who are deaf. Life or death emergency? Change in travel plans? Never! No, the conversation usually runs to information like, “Not much. What are you doing?”

It’s amusing to imagine all kinds of scenarios about the people we see. The punk couple with pierced everything probably have kids who are honor students involved in Boy Scouts and Brownies. The old couple straight from a Frank Capra film may be terrorists in disguise, while the well-dressed businessman could be on his way to a conference with mud wrestlers in Las Vegas.

Two older ladies position their wheelchairs next to us and start to make conversation. But, instead of the expected talk centering on grandchildren or ailments, they remark on the books we are reading. Turns out they have read all those authors’ work, and have cogent things to say about them and other literary matters. So much for stereotyping.

Other surprises occur. The waiter in the airport café is not only pleasant, but funny. The food is not bad, the service is good and the noise level is acceptable. People smile at you, sometimes before you smile at them.

The security attendants are courteous and patient with travelers frustrated by the required removal of shoes, quart-size cosmetic bags and other bureaucratic lunacies. Maybe they, too, believe the bad guys who have already succeeded in disrupting our lives because of such rules would probably not try the same scams again.

Another sweet lady strikes up a ­conversation. If ever we thought we’d had tragic lives, they were nothing compared to this person’s experiences. She’s lost her husband to cancer and two sons to accidental deaths. She lives a couple of states away from her daughter, who wants her closer, but it upsets the lady to think about leaving the friends and home she had shared with her husband.

Airport people-watching has verified my opinion that people are basically good. Of course, there are those who are sometimes rude, exhausted and angry—including myself I’m sorry to say—but understanding their problems may help us excuse their behavior. Also, most people seem optimistic, expecting others to be trustworthy and hoping to have a satisfying travel experience.

Especially in travel situations, people can be selfish, but many are kind. They carry a heavy bag for an old lady, they smile at the parents of a cranky child or they thank service attendants warmly. They help themselves and others feel good in a stressful time.

We are all together on this journey of life. By copying God’s grace, we can have great fun and learn so much from our fellow travelers.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.) †

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