don’t lean back


I am old enough to remember when it was fun to fly, which, of course, makes me old. The experience of getting in and out of an airport, much less the time spent on board the airplane have not been very enjoyable for a long, long time.

The “legacy carriers,” as they are often called, are a metaphor for much of what is wrong with society. Besides the shady fare structure that makes it impossible for anyone to figure out what a ticket actually costs and the plethora of extra fees for everything from bags to breakfast, they have created a class structure that rewards only the wealthiest of passengers. Before those of us who make up the Great Unwashed are invited to board, the gate agents go through a litany of Platinum, Gold, Silver, Brass, and Bauxite members who get to go before us, reminding us all we are only being allowed on because they ran out of rich people. When we finally get to our seats we find out they were built for people with retractable legs — except for the seats with more room that cost extra.

Part of the reason the metaphor works for me is it is far too easy to blame the airlines for our actions once we take our place in the Flying Caste System. Faced with our cramped quarters, it is tempting to think our only alternative is to lean back and give ourselves some space.

Don’t do it.

Don’t lean back. Yes, the system is inequitable and uncomfortable and we deserve to be treated better, and when I choose to recline my seat I am choosing my comfort at the expense of whoever is sitting behind me. When it comes down to me or them, I choose me. The very essence of community is found in our commitment to not forget or overlook one another. Once any of us decide someone else’s comfort is worth less, things fall apart.

Here in North Carolina, our legislature is proving my point again and again, making sure the corporations get bigger and bigger breaks even as they make it more and more difficult for people with low incomes to get affordable health care or make a living wage or even vote easily. Then again, our state government is as easy a target as the airlines. As I said, I can’t just blame the system. When I begin to pay closer attention to my life, I realize how many people feel the back of my chair reclining into their lives. Most of the folks who make my life possible — from the dry cleaners to the grocery store to the gas station to many restaurants — don’t make a living wage.

The point of life is not merely for me to be happy, or even for those I love to be happy. The basic purpose of our existence is to take care of each other, to foster the common good. Maybe it won’t change the world, but it’s a good start:

Don’t lean back.




  1. Thought-provoking! It is so true that much of our comfort rests on the backs of people much less well off than ourselves. I remember reading “If you have more than you need, your relatives are going hungry somewhere.” Thank you for reminding us….we need that. Again and again.

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