Diplomacy 101: Courtesy To Youth Culture

A sad but common turn of events at my stage of life is developing a distaste for youth culture. My own unconfessed prejudice was revealed on a flight from Louisville to Boston. I’d secured an aisle seat towards the front and was looking forward to reading my book in peace.

I was hoping I’d have all three seats in the row to myself when a teen dressed in tight black clothes -- part Goth, part trash queen -- pushed past my knees. She swore as she stumbled into the window seat. Noting her spiky black hair, pale skin, tattoo, and the hook dangling from a pierced lip that accentuated her angry expression, I knew I didn’t have to worry about making small talk. This rebel would have nothing to say to a middle-class middle-aged woman like me.

I went back to my book, but as the plane began to gather speed for takeoff, I noticed the Goth princess hugging herself tightly. I looked over. No way! Yes! This pierced and tattooed alien who’d used the "F-word" instead of "excuse me" was actually ... crying.

My maternal instincts shifted from neutral into high gear. "What’s the matter, sweetheart?" I asked.

"I’m — I’m scared of flying!" she blurted out frantically. An open hand, green fingernails, skull ring, and all, was thrust into the empty seat between us. "Could you hold my hand — just during takeoff and landing?"

I did, of course. She let go only once we were high in the air with the seatbelt sign turned off, and I dried my sweaty palm surreptitiously. My row-mate kept her nose (and hooked lip) plastered against the window and didn’t say a word the whole flight. About twenty minutes before we were scheduled to land, the same open hand plunked down on the empty seat between us. Again I took it, and again she clutched mine until we reached the gate.

We parted without saying much, but I’ll always be thankful for the way this particular traveling companion opened my eyes to the inhabitants of youth culture. Her vulnerability exposed my condemnation and kindled a diplomatic courtesy that had been lacking in my heart. And any ambassador representing the King of hospitality must be armed with courtesy, ready for every green-tipped hand reaching out for His.


Anonymous said...

Good story! My daughter had the opposite experience a couple of years ago... I'm pleased you responded to this young woman as you did. I won't soon forget this story.

Mitali Perkins said...

Always grateful for any experience that challenges the natural movement towards stodginess ... thanks for stopping by!

Anonymous said...

The message in this post spoke to me. It was so good I wanted to send it to a bunch of people. So I composed an email, selected all the people to put in the bcc field, and yahoo wouldn't send it. There were so many addresses, it thought I might be sending spam and gave me some grief about it. But I got 'er done! It just took a little longer. GREAT MESSAGE!!!

Mitali Perkins said...

I'm so glad! Thanks for the encouragement, and for letting me know that you valued this enough to send it on. Here's to shattering barriers between the generations!

~Mark said...

Well done Mitali! I shudder to think of how many green-tipped hands I may have missed, so I appreciate your reminder.

Mitali Perkins said...

Mark! I love your blog! You should blog for crosswalk.com! Enjoy the looooooongest day of the year.