Me, first

As I write this, I’m at the airport. I have the rare luxury of traveling alone, without my preschoolers (and by rare, I mean that this hasn’t happened since before my first baby came screaming her way into the world), and with only myself to worry about, the world seems a little quieter and more contemplative. At least, my world does. As I enjoy my moment of calm, I notice everyone around me seems harried and stressed, and I wonder if that’s how I usually look.

By the time I reach the security check-in, I too am joining in the stress, doing the ‘push-me, pull-you’ dance of trying to beat the person behind me to the queue, as if it matters. Suddenly, I stop and ask myself, what am I doing? I’m not late, I don’t need to push myself past anyone else. What makes me any more important, more worthy, more entitled? With that, I decide to stop, and let the woman behind me go ahead.

When we start to board, the whole once-polite waiting room becomes a gladiator’s arena in which we all must fight ‘to the death,’ our weapons the downward glances that prevent us from considering the humanity of our opponents. It is every man for himself, and none of us cares for anything but claiming our seat and overhead compartment on the plane. Again, I step away from the fray, seeing it for the first time as the madness it is. Why do I care so much?

Recently, I’ve decided that I don’t. Care that much, I mean. Have I thought twice about the five seconds I saved the other day by speeding past the car in front of me? Did I treasure and value that shirt that I grabbed first at the sale? Did being one person closer in line add a single day to my life? In the moment, these things seem to matter so much, but in the long run, what would matter more, being first or treating another person with love and kindness? Isn’t that what Jesus asks me to do? Isn’t that loving my neighbor?

Once I force myself to see other people as people, and not just physical barriers to things I want, it becomes harder to put myself first. Loving others is not just in the big things, like being there for a friend who’s hurting or celebrating with them when life is good. Real, true love is sacrificial, seeking to gain nothing, and if I only ever love my friends, I’m not really loving well. Because the truth is that I gain friendship from loving my friends, but it’s a sacrifice to love someone I don’t know.

Do you remember the last time a stranger went out of their way to do something nice for you? I do – I had a cart full of groceries and kids to load into the car, it was raining, and a frail-looking woman no younger than 70 stopped what she was doing and loaded my groceries into the car for me so that I could focus on my kids. It still puts a lump in my throat to think about, and it happened months ago. I could be that for someone, too, every day, if I just stopped focusing so much on myself. So I think I will.