Sunday, March 6, 2016

Free coffee and humanity

Lately, with the political season, I have been losing faith; losing faith in our country, our citizens and our future leadership.  I feel like I'm in an arena of racism, prejudice, hate and Islamophobia.  It's quite disheartening and one can get sucked into the dark vortex of media and wonder about the fate of our world.  I worry about my future in this country as a brown Muslim.
And then Friday happened, but before I talk about Friday, I will turn back the clock to a few years ago.  My cousin (who stressed out about everything) came to one of get-together gathering at my parents and as always started talking about her stressful day. Her story had a good ending though.  She talked about about how much she had to study and all her tests coming up and then in the midst of her stress she went to the Starbucks drive through to get a cup of coffee.  When she drove up to the counter to pick up her coffee and pay, to her surprise, the coffee was already paid for. The person in front of her in line, had paid for her coffee and in return my cousin was beaming about it. She told me that it had changed her day. She was completely transformed by such an act that she was convinced that she wanted to do it for someone else.  I don't know if my cousin did pay it forward for someone else, but the change I saw in her was remarkable.  Her face was so much brighter.  This was my cousin who would find a reason to be stressed out.  There was a joke we would make about her.  We would say, "Oh my gosh!  It's raining.  Time for her to stress out!"  It didn't take much to get her riled up.  That day, after I saw her happiness, I thought to myself, 'If all it takes is a free cup of coffee to make such a change in a person, why not more people do it?'
So, I decided to start buying coffee for the person behind me in line at the drive through. Sometimes I would get a glimpse of their face.  Some of them waved at me, mouthing the words "thank you".  Sometimes, I would just drive on, not knowing if I made a difference, but hoping.  One day I was on the car phone on blue tooth and while I paid for my coffee, I enquired about the bill of the person behind me and offered to pay for them also.  My husband on the other line, after I got done with my transaction asked, "did you just pay for the coffee for the person behind you?"  I said, "Yeah, I do that once in a while." and I narrated the story of my cousin.  My husband said, "remind me to be behind you on the drive through line next time!"  "Ha ha.  Very funny," I retorted and forgot all about it.
I don't do it to get the favor returned to me.  I just do it to make the world a better place.  I do it in the hope that the person whom I do it for will do it for someone else and make their day brighter.  Maybe start a chain of positive energy in this world that could most certainly use it.
Fast forward a couple more years and one evening at dinner with a friend, we were told that our bill was already paid for.  Wow!  Really?  First, I thought it was a joke and then when I was convinced that the waiter was telling us the truth, my first thought was, "I never considered a restaurant.  Coffee yes, but a meal?"  That's some serious pay it forward.  I should try it, I told myself.  Meanwhile, my friend was all confused.  "Why?  How?  I don't understand.  We have to pay for this."  I explained to her about the coffee that I pay forward and so I explained how this was OK.  I told her that I never expected it being returned, and most certainly not with a meal.  My friend was just glad that there was an explanation for why it happened.  It was because of myself and the coffee, she had concluded, that our meal was paid for.  I didn't wish to dissect it.  I just thought that such was life.  You see a glimmer of hope in humanity and you smile and try to pass on that hope.  It's as simple as that.
Fast forward to last Friday.  The times now are far more hateful I feel than I have encountered.  I feel more suspicious of people in general.  I am constantly evaluating what people would do if they found out I was Muslim.  I can't hide my skin color though, but I wonder how much hate people feel when they see me.  I'm at the airport.  I have read stories of people being detained from the plane just because someone didn't feel safe.  Maybe someone spoke in Arabic and people reported them and the people were detained from their flight?  It doesn't take much.  All it takes is for one person to say, "she looks weird." and I could lose my flight while they re-search me and all that jazz.  Who knows?
I'm in the Starbucks line.  The line is long.  The woman in front of me is wearing a US Army uniform.  I watch her eye some coffee mugs.  I call out to her.  "You like coffee mugs?  I'm addicted.  I have a collection and I can't get enough."  She tells me that she too, like myself, enjoys coffee mugs.  I tell her that if I had the space in my home, I would start the Starbucks city collection.  I tell her that wherever I am at a Starbucks, I want to buy their mugs with the city name on it and I just haven't done it.  "City mugs?" she asks me.  "Yes," I say looking around for those mugs.  "They have to have them here."  I see them and point them out to her. "There they are!"  She picks it up, eyes it carefully and say, "I'm buying this.  I figure I'm not going to be in St. Louis again!"  "Where are you from?"  I ask.  "So Cal," she replies and we talk about my trip to LA and my feelings about the city.  We talk about the place where they have amazing apple pie.  Soon, we find ourselves at the head of the line.
There are 2 people at the counter.  Counter A and counter B.  The woman in front of the woman with the uniform goes up to Counter B.  Counter A had another customer.  She announces to the person at Counter B that she was going to pay for the coffee for the woman in the US Army uniform also.  That's cool, I thought because I was going to offer anyway!  Well, the woman in the uniform steps up to the desk and orders a drink at counter B.  Then she falls back in line, in front of me.  Counter A is still busy.  I approach counter B and the man at the counter says, "this is only to pay!"  So, I step back in line, behind the woman in the uniform.  She steps forward to counter B again.  At this point I'm not paying attention.  I'm so confused about how this Starbucks system works.  Then the woman in uniform is done with her order at counter B.  Made sense.  She went back in line to pay for her city coffee mug although her coffee was paid for.  I'm still standing in line waiting for counter A to open while the man at counter B is calling me forward.  I'm so lost at this point.  This was the man who told me this was a pay only line and now he was going to take my order?  OK.  Whatever.  So, I step forward with my iPhone app opened and ready to scan and after my order he says, "Your coffee has been taken care of!"  "What?  By whom?"  I was shocked.  It was the woman in uniform who had paid for me.  I couldn't believe it.  So, after I gave my order I went to the woman in uniform to thank her.  The woman who had paid for her was there.  I was like, "This is so neat.  It's a little pay it forward chain."  No, I did not pay for the person behind me.  I was too much in surprise, I almost forgot I had to wait for my coffee.  It was a great feeling though.  In that microcosm, in that tiny universe at the Starbucks at STL airport there was a feeling of hope and humanity.
On my may back to St. Louis, our flight was delayed.  Several people on our flight were anxious about making their connections and getting home that night.  As I got seated, I made small talk with the guy on the isle seat (I was the window).  "Is St. Louis home?" I asked.  He stated that his home was in Detroit and that he was nervous about making the connection.  I told him to talk to the flight attendant and in some cases, they can let the passengers with short connecting flights out first.  He said he did talk to the attendant and he wasn't convinced that they were going to do anything.  I told him I would talk to him also.  I explained that my home was St. Louis, but I understood what it felt like to not get home the same night you planned to.  I told him about missing my AA flight at MIA (was supposed to blog about that) and I told him to keep his fingers crossed and to be hopeful.  It was difficult to interrupt the flight attendants as the man assigned to us was very busy.  They were making announcements about how short a time we had in air and that we should finish our drinks ASAP.  There was no small talk.  It was get your order and next person.
While we were landing, I found a brief opportunity to stop the attendant and explain that the person on the aisle seat had a tight connecting and that I would be OK with sitting back till everyone with connecting flights got out.  He said, "We know what we're doing.  We have done this before!"  I look at the gentleman in the aisle seat and say, "I tried!"
We land at the airport and they do not make any announcements to let the people with tight connectings out first.  I stand in front of the middle seat.  The person at the middle seat had gotten up and was standing in the aisle in front of the person with a tight connecting.  She did not have a connecting and I wondered why she wouldn't wait for the person sitting next to her to stand in front of her.  He needed to get out sooner than she did!  I look at the person behind the person who was seated in the aisle seat.  I ask him, "Excuse me sir.  Do you have a short connecting also?"  He says, "Yes, I do!"  I tell him that I would wait for him to go by me before I deplaned.  The line on the aisle is waiting for the doors to open and as people start moving ahead, the guy who was sitting at the aisle seat on my row says to me, "You are coming with me!"  "Excuse me?"  I reply.  "You are not standing there waiting for others.  I'm letting you ahead of me!"  So, he did!  The attendant on the way out told me that the connecting flights were waiting for the passengers.  The man at the aisle said, "thank you.  That was really nice of you!" when we got off the jet bridge and were in the airport.  "You're welcome," I reply.  "Good luck.  Go get your connecting!" and he left while I stopped to get the coat out of my back pack before I had to walk out into the chilly air.
It felt good.  I felt human again.  It was indeed a day of positive energy and hope.  I wondered, in all that, if it mattered that I was a Muslim.  I wondered why that thought had even crossed my mind.  I wanted to somehow make it known that the 2 billion Muslims around the world, would also have stood up to help a fellow human being.  I have to focus on the light.  I have to stop thinking about defending my religion even when it wasn't called for.  I have to keep the faith.  I have to.  I have to believe that there is still a glimmer of hope for humanity and that at the end of the day, we as a human race, will take care of each other, despite race, ethnicity or religion.  Do we have any other choice?

Best wishes everyone and let's go out and spread the joy.  Pay it forward.  Help another person.  Let there be hope!