United Flight 414 had just begun to taxi down the runway when the woman in seat 28B threw up. I was in 28C. We were on our way to Newark Airport, five-and-a-half hours across the country. She spoke no English. I do not speak Chinese. This, I thought, is going to be a long trip.
I had a lot of work, and when I had arranged it in the space an economy seat offers, I got up to use the head. When I returned, a man was standing at my seat. He was the woman’s husband, and he sat behind her in 29B. He didn’t speak English either, but he made clear to me that we were to trade places. I looked forlornly at the two large men in 29A and 29C, and as I gathered my stuff, I made it clear how put out I was. People should recognize the sacrifice I was making.
In the Gospel of Luke, a lawyer asks Jesus, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Part of the answer is to love “your neighbor as yourself.” The lawyer naturally presses, “And who is my neighbor?”
The answer turns out to be the Samaritan, who went out of his way to help the man lying half-dead in the road. He did not act begrudgingly, but cared generously for the stranger – whereas my body language had emphasized the extent of my self-sacrifice. My one-percent roots were showing – I have a right to my privileged place but occasionally make a noble gesture to the less fortunate.