Friday, November 6, 2009

I Miss Manners

    The captain announced light rain and temperatures of 71 degrees as the plane touched down in Charlotte. Only an hour and fifteen minutes earlier, I had left a cold and windy Chicago, temperatures hovering around 50 degrees,with a  wind factor making them feel more like 40.  I unlatched my seatbelt, jumped into the hurried crowd in the aisle, and opened the overhead storage hatch to retrieve my overpacked suitcase.  It had been a successful shopping expedition, and my carry-on bag was bulging with bargains. It had shifted to the space above the seat behind mine during the flight, and as I struggled at an awkward angle to pull the bag from the bin, the young man who had been seated behind me watched.
     "Do you need to get that bag down?" he asked.
      "Oh yes, thank you, it's really heavy and stuck in there." I replied, thinking that help was on the way.     
      "Then let me change places with you." he said.
       Whoa.....what did he just say? Let me change places with you? Did I hear that correctly? Yes, it was Let me change places with you, not, Let me help you with that. I narrowed my eyes and stared at him for a moment, not quite sure how I wanted to respond.  I considered making him wait while the rest of the plane deboarded as I deliberately and slowly struggled to remove my bag, but I could hear my mother's voice saying "Two wrongs don't make a right."
       I gave up my spot in the aisle so he could hurry off the plane, then continued my struggle to retrieve the bag.
     People are funny creatures, but we used to be funny creatures with manners.  Our behavior is less amusing when the manner element is missing. 
     Daily, I am surprised at how people will practically knock Sissey over to get through a door that I am holding open for her.  Perhaps I just didn't realize how many extremely important people there are in the world, but I have to wonder what  is so important at the mall that they have to practically knock a disabled person down to get there? A 10% discount on panties at Victoria's Secret? Two-for-the-price-of-one shoes at Macy's?
     I miss manners. I miss living in a gentle world, in a society that taught it's children to say "please" and "thank you", where respect for adults was the norm, where compassion for others was more important than individual rights. I don't know when it became unfashionable to have manners, when  "I'm more important than anyone else, so get out of my way" replaced "Can I help you with that?"   or "Let me hold that door for you."
     Every once in a while, I will find someone whose parents cared enough to go through the painstaking process of teaching them manners and respect for others: the student in class who gets Sissey's special chair and adjustable table for her, the teenager who runs ahead of me to get the door for Sissey,  the gentleman in the security line at the airport who steps aside to let Sissey and her walker get by. Those glimpses give me hope that we don't live in a world gone mad.
       Greed and self-importance may be your individual right, but I'll take a compassionate, polite piece of humble pie over that any day, thank you very much!

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