02 June 2010

Tea at Trianon: Be Bold in Your Courtesy

Tea at Trianon: Be Bold in Your Courtesy

Please offer a seat. I will never forget how back in the early nineties I was on a crowded train going to Washington, DC. from Princeton, N.J. There was a young lady who was expecting a baby standing in the aisle with her bag on hand. All the seats were taken and none of the many men around her would offer her a seat. I was appalled and angry and wanted to give up my seat to her. I was, however, hemmed in by a crowd of women speaking in rapid Spanish and was unable to move. There was no way the poor pregnant girl could have climbed over so many people to make the seat exchange.

I was relieved when the conductor entered. He was African-American and a prince of a man who surveyed the situation with displeasure. Then he announced: "This lady is with child. Would one of you gentlemen please give her your seat?" The man nearest to the lady surrendered his place to her; how appalling that he had to be asked to do so. When the train got to Washington, I saw the young mother greeted by a young man with a little boy; the little boy leaped into the air at the sight of her and ran across the platform to meet her. How we forget that strangers we meet are often members of a family who love them. It occurred to me that when we are rude to someone we are dehumanizing them, and taking away from them the love and respect that they deserve as children of God. But when we are polite, then we are treating them according to their God-given dignity. Offering a seat to another is a small gesture that expresses a great deal about our view of the cosmos, our place in it, and the place of others. Being the center of the universe in one's mind is not a character trait to be admired, nor is it a sign of psychological or spiritual health.

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