Airports are places full of people. People of different cultures. People of different race, age and gender. All on an unique journey
Recently, I was in the Chicago airport and had an experience that caused me to reflect on building community.
45 minutes until boarding time, I sat in my seat and typed on my laptop at the gate. Across the way, there was a young mother with two children. One in a carrier on the front of her body and one holding on to her hand, like a chained animal who wanted free. Occasionally she would let go of the toddler’s hand. This followed with yelling his name repeatedly and making a run to sweep him up, before he went too far in the crowd of strangers. It was clear she was exhausted.
Meanwhile I typed away. Other people quietly observed while the mom and young boy ran through the seats. The baby started crying. This made the situation more difficult and as the mom tried to tend to the crying infant, the little boy became more out of control.
30 minutes to boarding.
I noticed by this point, folks started talking about the young woman. Some spoke of pity. Others displayed frustration. I noticed one man in particular, who constantly would look at the mom. He even waved at the rambunctious toddler.
Why wasn’t anyone offering to help?
20 minutes to boarding.
Finally, I stood up. Passing the gentlemen who seemed interested in the young mom’s situation I said, “Come on let’s help.” He didn’t hesitate for a second and immediately followed me.
I introduced myself to the young mom and said, “We want to help. What do you need?” With tears running down her face she delegated instructions. I held the baby while she made a bottle. The other gentleman made fast friends with the little guy as he sat and read to him. The mom thanked us over and over again.
Five minutes to boarding.
Both children were fast asleep. Mission accomplished. I looked at everyone around me and couldn’t help but think–why didn’t anyone else offer to help? That wasn’t so bad….Actually it was nice to hold the little baby.
Well, I think this happens all the time in our community. Here’s a list of thoughts that I had when trying to decide whether or not to reach out to the mom. Maybe you can relate?
1 | I’m too busy.
I was trying to get caught up on emails and tending to kids was not in my plan. The work will always be there. Live in the moment a little!
2 | I’m not sure if ‘she’ wants my help.
I had no idea what to say to the young mom. I didn’t know if my offer to help would embarrass her. If you don’t ask you’ll never know.
3 | I don’t know what ‘she’ needs.
The gentlemen who helped with me, kept saying afterwards “I’m glad you got up- I wanted to, but I didn’t know what she needed.” Of course you don’t. That’s why the question, “what do you need from me?” is so powerful. Needs are universal and we can usually communicate them when asked.
4 | I worry about what others will think.
The young mom and children captured nearly everyone’s attention at the airport gate. I knew that lots of eyes would be on me if I helped. Sometimes modeling is one of the best teaching techniques.
5 | I’m different than ‘she’ is.
I could tell in the short period of time that the mom and I probably parented differently. I knew she and I had a different culture. BUT I am a mother and I know what it feels like to be completely exhausted. Figure out ways to connect to the experiences of others, maybe not the exact situation or circumstance.
6 | I won’t get anything out of this.
Selfishly, I was tired and wasn’t in a giving mood. However, I had no idea how much holding the newborn was going to calm me and give me renewed energy. Reciprocity isn’t always obvious right away.
Our communities are places full of people. People of different cultures. People of different race, age and gender. All on an unique journey.
Isolation is terrible for us. Take the risk and reach out.
Five minutes to landing.
by Heather Cunningham, to learn more about Heather’s work please visit thinktank-inc.org