Personal/Blanche DuBois Never Flew on a Plane
In recent weeks, the world has witnessed two incidents of air travel employees bullying passengers. Last week’s chapter involving American Airlines had all the elements of an award winning silent movie: a villainous attendant to hiss at, the teary damsel in distress and – SCORE ONE FOR HUMANITY – a chivalrous passenger coming to the defense of the young mother who suddenly found herself smack in the middle of her own Blanche DuBois moment.
You’ll recall that Blanche, Tennessee Williams’ beleaguered anti-heroine of A Streetcar Named Desire, lived her life relying on the kindness of strangers.
Given that Blanche viewed her life through a warped lens, I don’t condone her philosophy. I do, however, champion her mission to seek kindness in unlikely situations.
If you watch any national news report, stories of simple kindness – epitomized by trustworthiness, decency, consideration, selflessness – are now the celebrated, spotlighted, special feature of the Friday evening broadcast.
As much as I enjoy those reports, I’m saddened that human decency has become such a rarity.
Smart phone cameras offer a plethora of filters designed to make photos more beautiful, and social media constantly convinces us and others of how magnificently special – and, by default, beautiful – we all are. I fear these lifestyle phenomena are eroding our communal selflessness.
That which expands our world exponentially draws us deeper into ourselves.
How many times have we seen disturbing, yet expertly framed and well edited, video footage of a riot, an attack, or a natural disaster taken by a bystander with a cell phone? In the name of all that’s good, why didn’t that bystander ignore the cell phone and render aid to someone in trouble? Or at the very least, use the phone to call for help?
Perhaps because the chance to be the first with the story was too tempting. Or too lucrative. Has taking action become a reflex governed by degrees of personal gain?
If the person filming last week’s incident, or any of the other presumably half dozen people in proximity at the time, had offered the mother a helping hand with her daughters or her stroller, might there have been nothing to film?
I recently had the privilege of seeing Come From Away, a new musical that recounts the experiences of the residents of Gander, Newfoundland and the thousands of airline passengers who were forced to land and stay in that small town and the surrounding villages for almost a week in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks in New York, Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania. It tells the stories of the residents selflessly understanding and creatively caring for the needs of strangers. Likewise, during those days of forced community, the “plane people” learned to trust, accept and appreciate the goodwill that was showered on them.
The most illuminating fact about the Ganderites is that they did what they did simply because it was the right thing to do, and they gave of themselves expecting nothing in return. They could have easily gone to the antiquated, WWII airfield and stared at the overwhelming sight of 38 passenger jets that had invaded their tranquility. They could have done the bare minimum by offering basic shelter and marginal sustenance. But they did more. They engaged and embraced, organizing communication, information, entertainment and fellowship. They treated their guests as they trusted others would have treated them.
We often see that same goodwill repeated domestically in times of great and sudden need. But there are likewise too many instances of self-absorption that lead to people facing their struggles alone because those in a position to help have become detached spectators rather than compassionate actors.
So I wonder, when I, like Blanche Dubois, need kindness from a stranger, will it be there for me to rely on? Or will my moment of need become an evening news story, complete with video?