A psychotherapist reflects on the magic of connection with an unlikely flying companion.
My throbbing head and prickly throat demanded a 2-hour nap for the flight’s first leg. As I settled in to my seat, I smiled down at my neighbor—an elderly woman, with a warm smile. The moment our eyes met, the still voice in my heart warned me that snoozing would soon be out of the question. The click of my seat beat served as her invitation to begin to chat about her life.
She picked the right one share her life’s story. I’m a therapist—what else could I do but engage her? She was clearly proud of her family’s triumphs, and was looking forward to a reunion with her son. When she found out that I worked with addicts, she shared her grandson’s struggle with opiates. I imagined him as a tall, blond, young man, with kind eyes. I later shared iphone pics of my children, husband, and our once-in-a lifetime visit to his family’s village in West Africa.
With the same inquisitive tone she used to ask about my family, she leaned over and asked me the question that would change the course of our budding relationship:
“So, are you voting for Trump?”
My eyes stared deeply in to hers to assess her sincerity. The sarcastic teenager who still lives inside of me wanted to roll my eyes, and say, “Sure…ma’am. I’m an African-American Muslim woman…A Social Worker from the Bronx…married to an immigrant from West Africa, with countless Mexican and Arab friends. I’m definitely voting for the candidate who hates every group that I am a part of, and wants to murder or detain my people”. Did she see the scarf on my head? Did she notice the chocolate hue of my skin? Had she caught on to the fact that the pictures of my family and names of my children implied that someone, somewhere was from someplace else? The angry Black girl inside of me wanted to holler, “Are you crazy, old lady? Don’t you know who I am?!!”
However, I had just returned from a week of soaking in the teachings of my beloved Sufi master, a man who had committed his life to bringing peace between Israelis and Palestinians. If he could work within those wounded communities, then surely I could access a loving part of myself in response to her question.
I smiled down at her, politely responding with, “No ma’am…I don’t think I can do that”.
“Why not? Don’t you think he can change our country? Bring it back?”
I took a deep breath, and paused for a sidebar conversation with God: “Are you serious? Did you really bring this woman into my life? A real live Trump supporter? Was it really necessary for me to meet her? And to be trapped on an airplane with her for the next 5 hours? Please Lord, don’t test my newfound “peaceful co-existence” skills just yet… let me get home and try them out on my family first…”
“Look in her eyes…the voice responded, …”SEE her…”
I glanced down at her again. Her eyes conveyed a deep desire to see a better world….I softened.
“I’m sorry Ma’am. I can’t support him. I don’t trust him, and I don’t see any evidence of a plan in place”.
“What about the wall? Don’t you think it could work?”
Ya Allah! A Waller? I had never met a Waller in my life! This test was becoming too much for me. I dreamed of a wall between the two of us!!
“Well, Ma’am, I don’t think the wall will work”.
“Well, it’s never been tried before…I say let’s try it”.
“How big should the wall be? What do we do with the people who climb over it? Should we shoot them?
“No, of course not.. I don’t want to shoot anybody. I just want us to protect our borders. There’s too many of them getting in. And we have to do something. Otherwise, we are going to run out of money.
“I am not convinced that the wall will work. Do you know more about his plan for the wall?”
“I think we should at least give it a try. What else are we going to do? They’re coming in here so fast! And because they don’t speak English, they are slowing down our children.
I had no idea who they were. I could only assume that a few of them looked like my daughters and nephews.
“I’ve actually met many children who arrived here from other countries. In fact, one of my dear friends adopted a little girl from India. She couldn’t speak a word of English when she arrived. Within weeks, she fit right in with the other kids. By the end of the year, you would have thought she was raised here.”
“Yes, but that’s just one! There’s too many in here now, and we can’t stop it!”
“Well, ma’am, you do know that our country has always welcomed immigrants…look at the lower East side of Manhattan. Do you know how many groups settled there before moving around the country? The children all learned English, even if their parents never did. Those people became leaders in our country.
She pondered that one for a moment. I’d hoped that it would be a long moment…
“I just don’t trust those people in Congress…all of them making all of that money, getting all of those benefits, while the rest of us starve.”
“You do know that Trump is rich, don’t you?
“Yes, that’s why I’m voting for him. Maybe he doesn’t need any more, and he’ll figure out a way to share some of it with us.”
“I don’t think so ma’am. I think we’re on our own. Have you seen any of his social change plans?”
She stopped talking. I took advantage of the silence, to soak in a back episode of Downton Abbey, tilting my tablet towards her seat. There we were, two women from different worlds, soaking in the drama of another time and place, at 35,000 feet.
After 20 minutes or so, she gradually slipped into a nap. I periodically glanced at her. Her gently folded hands, and the softness of her breath, brought back memories of my own grandmother.
The voice of God slowly transformed into that of my beloved Big Mama: “Remember to SEE her”.
Later, she awakened with a new argument for The Donald: “He has smart kids”.
I heeded Big Mama’s advice and gave her the validation that she needed: “Yes Ma’am, he does.”
I finally asked her name.
“Pleased to meet you, Miss Doris. I’m Sabrina.”
“That’s a lovely name.”
“Thank you. The root of my name means patience in Arabic”
“Yes, you have had a lot of patience to listen to an old lady talk. I may not even live to see any of the change happen. But I’m gonna vote any way.”
“Yes Ma’am, I will too. I have to. Too many of my people died so that I could vote.
She seemed to suddenly realize that she was talking to a Black woman. She smiled. ”Yes, you’re right.”
After a few more moments, she gently tapped me on the shoulder and said, “You and I should run..Look at us..We completely disagreed on everything. But we just sat together and talked about it..and made a new friend.”
I wondered whether there were any other hearts on the plane who eavesdropped long enough to feel the warmth of our budding mutual affection…
“I’m gonna keep praying for your grandson…if he has your veins in his blood, then I know his heart is good…
She was visibly moved…smiled, and whispered a soft thank you…
“But I’m still voting for Donald”.
“That’s great, Ma’am…that’s great…
article originally appeared here: http://www.yourtango.com/experts/dr-sabrina-ndiaye/compassion-trumps-trump)