I was flying home from a speaking gig in Atlanta and was waiting at my gate in the airport terminal. My kosher Chinese takeout had made a narrow escape from TSA clutches and I started to chow down when I saw her: a fellow hair-coverer.
My stealthy spying skills are finely honed (we play Spy Alley) and therefore my staring/sorting was imperceptible to the naked eye. In between forkfuls of lemon chicken, I confidently deduced that she was very young (17), Christian, not Amish, NOS (not otherwise specified).
Now for the real question: do I approach her?
I mean, I’m always down for a religious Q & A, but not everyone is me. So, I’ve learned. But covering one’s hair, and in her case, dressing in homemade non-Western clothing, isn’t always easy, and we could all use some solidarity. So, I swallowed my mouthful and said, “Hey!”
It was at that moment that it occurred to me that I happened to be wearing my wig and not a headscarf, my more common cover-of-choice, as I was coming from a conference and was going for the professional, rather than hippie, look. So, what do I say? I’m a fellow head-coverer, but you can’t tell today, but usually I’m as conspicuous as you?
Which is pretty much what I said.
She smiled. I told her I was an Orthodox Jew and asked if it would be OK to ask her what type of religion she followed. I suppressed my fist bump when she said, “Just a Christian trying to follow the Bible.” She said she had been in South America helping a former church member who had several young children and a traveling husband. It was her first time flying. She had six siblings; I told her of my large family. She said they were all coming to meet her at the airport. I later saw them: young, countercultural, wide-eyed.
I remain fascinated by fellow religionists. Their sticking out like a sore thumb makes me feel vindicated somehow. I am proud of them; they inspire me. I’m glad we met and I’m glad I spoke up.
I continue to wonder about the young not-Amish woman in the airport. Does she sometimes wish she dressed like everyone else, as I do? Does she sometimes feel proud to look different – choosing not to blend in – as I do? Does she feel honored to answer the questions that sometimes come her way, or relieved when people surreptitiously stare-without-staring and ask nothing at all?
Does she like to venture out into the big world, where all these questions become real, or prefer the shelter and insularity of home, where everything is uncomplicated?
I’ll never know the answers. I don’t even remember her very ordinary name (so unlike mine, I ruefully noted). But in many ways, I can’t get her out of my head. She is me; I am she. And yet – so different. It is the human story, yet we nearly never reach out to the stranger in the airport and say, “Hey.”
Hey. Let’s talk for five minutes and see how much we have in common. Hey. You are me, and I am you. Hey. We are all connected. Hey. Understanding you will help me understand me.