This past weekend, I had the amazing opportunity to attend a training conference in Boston to become a Co-Active coach. Co-Active is the oldest, most-reputable coaching model and, based on what I witnessed and experienced in these 2.5 days, it is no wonder. The leaders, attendees, energy, conversation were all brilliant. I left feeling vibrant and bubbly. The ordinary had become extraordinary.
At the hotel lobby cafe, the woman behind the counter didn't know the cost of the two hard-boiled eggs I wanted for breakfast. She spoke with a thick Eastern European accent, "I have no idea because I am minding the store while the other woman is away. Take them." I protested, "I can pay!" She said, "They are eggs. Take them." I profusely thanked her, "This will help compensate for the $30 I paid yesterday for scrambled eggs and 2 pieces of bacon at the buffet yesterday!" She laughed, "Of course!"
My Uber driver, Patricia, had immigrated from Kenya with her 5 sisters, to meet her mother who had been working in the States for 5 years in order to provide for the family. Her father had deserted the family 10 years ago because his wife was "unable to provide him with sons." Patricia said that culturally, this meant her mother was cursed. Patricia did not question this until she came to the US and learned about X and Y chromosomes. She learned that it was her father who was unable to provide a male heir. She no longer cares. On this day, she was elated because just that morning she had earned Platinum status at Uber, after being a driver for 2 months, which now allows her to see how long the estimated drive will be when she picks up a rider. (Prior to this, she was not given the distance or length of travel in advance of getting the passenger and had recently spent an entire day driving someone to Cape Cod on a Saturday, not knowing that was many hours away and ultimately forfeiting any other rides because no one leaves the Cape on a Saturday.) When she is not driving, she is a math tutor, teaching all levels of math. When others complain about racism in America, she tells them, "Get over it. We have tribal warfare back home. It is not new. Move on." She loves America and the only thing she truly misses about Kenya is the food. I asked about her favorite meal from home. I can't recall the name but it is a Muslim meal that cooks all day. She is able to make it herself one day a week and when she does, she takes a slow shower and gets clean and formal before preparing it. She lights candles on the table. She eats slowly and savors each bite. She is grateful.
Once at Logan Airport, I headed to the bathroom and when I went to wash my hands, I noticed a small vase of bright yellow daisies and purple statice. They looked out of place in this typical public restroom until I realized someone must have left them there on purpose. It was such a lovely, simple gesture that changed the entire aura of the fluorescent room. I took a picture of it as a memento of the moment.
On my flight to RDU, I sat next to a young man with dark skin, black hair and a thick, black beard with a bright white smile. After a few minutes, he asked me if the seats reclined. I showed him the button on the armrest. When the drink cart came by, he asked me if the beverages were complimentary. I assumed they were on JetBlue but then again, Frontier had charged me for seltzer so it was a good question. When the chips came around, both of us reached for a bag of Terra mixed sweet potato and blue potato chips. The bags were puffy from the sudden change in altitude. We laughed at our little chip pillows. We both agreed the sweet potato chips were way better. He later got some pretzels and was unable to get the bag open, even after he popped the pillow and tried to tear the bag open with his teeth. He asked me how to open the bag. I had been doing needlepoint (because I am a grandmother in the body of a middle-aged woman and have no shame) and had the sewing scissors hanging around my neck on a screaming yellow lanyard (because that's what sophisticated needlepointers do) so I offered to cut the bag open. He asked, "How were you able to bring those scissors on the plane?" I'd researched this myself years ago and learned sewing stuff like scissors and knitting needles are 'a-okay with TSA' which he and I agreed was completely nonsensical since these scissors were ridiculously pointed and sharp (TSA rules are complicated, no?) Finally, he told me he was from Mumbai and was coming to Raleigh to get his Master's degree in computer science at NC State. It was hard to tell his age. I asked him if he'd ever been to the US before. He said, "Never." I questioned, "Really?" He said, "I've never been out of India." I was astonished. He asked, "How big is Raleigh compared to New York City?" This made me laugh, "Waaaay smaller." As we started to land I saw trees on the ground below and it occurred to me, "Do you have trees in Mumbai?" "No," he smiled. I inquired, "Have you ever seen a tree in real life before?" He laughed and said, "A few times." I asked him about his religion. He said he was Catholic (which completely shocked me) and told me he was one of the 1.6% of Indians that are Catholic out of the 2% of Indians that are Christian. He went on to share that he sang and played guitar and keyboard at church and was also a member of a band. His favorite thing to play is the guitar solo in Hotel California (one of my FAVES). He taught himself to play using YouTube videos. I was completely in awe of this guy. He then told me, "I am 23. My name is Steve and my last name is of Portuguese descent and sounds Hispanic" (I later learned that the Portuguese were the first Europeans to discover the sea-route to India in 1498.) This was all just blowing my mind. I asked, "Do the people at NC State know you are Indian?" He chortled, "Of course." I added, "Am I the first person you've met in America?" He said, "No. I spoke to the passenger next to me on my flight from Qatar to Boston." "Dang it," I jested. "Just so you know, not all Americans are as nice as me" which made him laugh. For many reasons, I felt a maternal connection to this guy, so close in age to my oldest son, with so many common interests, so far away from home, his first time out of India, leaving his parents and sister for a two-year opportunity of a lifetime. I suddenly saw everything in my life through his eyes and the mundane became wondrous. I assured him, "You are going to love it here." We connected on WhatsApp and later that night he texted me, "Thanks for reaching out, Tracey, (with a smiley face emoji)."
In the aftermath of the shootings by white American men in El Paso, Chicago and Dayton the same weekend as my weekend of enchantment, I am yet again struck by the radical falseness of xenophobia. We do not need to be afraid of foreigners. We need to talk to them. Listen to them. Understand them. Realize we are all the same, with the same hopes and dreams. And wake up as a culture and recognize the beauty that immigrants bring to this great nation, remembering fact that the actual terrorists we have here at home are from here at home, not from afar. Connection is the solution.