“Love of Christ does not distract us from interest in others, but rather invites us to responsibility for them, to the exclusion of no one…”
Saint Pope John Paul II
Business travel is rarely glamorous. It’s even less glamorous when you travel the Monday after Thanksgiving and your home base is Philadelphia International. Wintry weather was causing delays and eventually prompted my full sprint from across the entire length of the airport so that I could board an earlier flight and not miss a critical connection. Arriving to the counter as the last zone boarded, I explained my plight to the gate agent and that my travel agency had moved me to this flight. Staring at his computer screen, the gate agent held out his hand for my ID, which I had ready. "Nope, not here," he said, still not looking at me. "Go over to customer service." With sweat pouring down my face, I calmly stated that I had a confirmation code. "Doesn’t matter," he said dismissively, now looking past me at the line of passengers cued to board. I ran over to customer service who sent me right back to my friend at the gate. This time, leaning in I tried again. "Can’t do it," he said typing away. I wanted to scream, "Look at me! I’m a human being!" but I figured that might not be an effective strategy. "Might you check again?" I asked with a little more terseness in my voice. Motioning for my ID again, he typed in my name, printed out a pass and handed it to me, having never once looked me in the eye. Once I sat down in my seat, I was furious at how rudely I had been treated. As I looked out the window trying to muster the depths of my Christian virtue to pray for this misguided gentleman that had so wronged me, my ears were assaulted by the flight attendant who fancied himself funny on this evening flight and began singing Christmas tunes on the intercom. "This is all I need," I thought to myself as he took the attendant chair facing me. "Maybe if I don’t look at him, he will stop," I thought as I reached for my headphones.
Thankfully, I recognized my hypocrisy as soon as I thought it. A leader at Catholic Charities once told me that their biggest challenge wasn’t finding enough volunteers. Their biggest challenge was getting volunteers to actually look the beneficiaries of their service in the eye, to recognize their dignity as an individual, despite their station or the circumstances that brought them there. In life and leadership, how often do I seek to encounter the person, before I engage their utility? How often do I lead with function over relationship? Do I have an eye to how valuable they are to me or how God values them? I didn’t join in the caroling but, making eye contact, thanked the flight attendant for his joy and asked him if he knew Silent Night.