Do we habitually ignore those who care for us for superficial behaviour?
I was on an Emirates flight returning to Dubai from Dhaka, on the way back to Toronto. It was before Hajj, and the flight was filled with people going for Hajj. Most of them were illiterate Hajjis who started wearing the two-piece Ihram at Dhaka airport itself. It was cold and they were shivering.
My seat was the left aisle seat on the center row. They seated a really old lady beside me to my right. She was going for pilgrimage with her son and son's wife. Now if other (younger) people didn't know anything about air journey she looked completely bewildered. Her son and daughter-in-law were seated elsewhere. I offered to change the seat with one of them, but they didn't want to.
This old lady was really frightened. Great, I thought, as if the whole flight wasn't delayed already. I really hate the Dubai-Dhaka or Dhaka-Dubai stretch. Nevertheless, firm in my belief that you have to be polite and well behaved to Hajjis who are 'guests of God', I had no choice but to grin and bear it, so I behaved extremely well with my co-passenger. She was my grandmother's age, and I never let her realize how irritating she was with her constant nagging. At the back of my mind was the thought, she is going for Hajj. She is a senior citizen. She deserved good behaviour. I have to do my part. I answered all her questions. When the meal came she asked me to ask her son if he had paid for it - I told her it was free. When I saw her shivering I asked the stewardess for a blanket. I told her how to adjust those earphones so she could listen to the Quran channel.
There was a selfish reason to my good behaviour as well. If she remembers my kindness and prays for me and God accepts her prayer, it's good for me. Guest of God, I kept reminding myself. But really, the main thing was, I knew I would have to do this for only four hours. After that, I would not see her again, and for four hours, I could afford to be polite.
She was really taken with my behaviour. Whenever a flight attendant passed by, she would tell her how good and kind a 'boy' I was, much to my embarrassment, and an amused look on the stewardess's part. Her son came by once, she gushed about what a decent and 'noble' person I was, a 'fareeshta' (angel) sent by God. I was kind of feeling guilty about my ambivalent feelings.
Then she started to complain about her son. If he really loved his mother he would have come early to the airport to get good seats on the flight. If he loved his mother he would have taken my offer to change seats. How the son was always late from work and after returning to the house would go out with his wife. How she felt neglected. How her son gave her an meagre allowance and if she asked for money he would ask why before giving it to her, and yet 'wasted' money on the wife. This and that.
I don't know too much about her personal life, but having spoken to the son later while in line for the washroom, he worked terribly hard as a government clerk. He had saved enough for the Hajj and it was because of his mother they were all going. He himself would rather saved that money or spent it on other uses. They were six siblings but no one wanted to care for their mother, so as eldest son he took the responsibility.
The best was the parting shot when we exited at Dubai. The lady told me I was a good man and better than her own son. Now as I waited for my Toronto bound flight, I could not help pondering, I was kind to her for a few hours because I could, and because I would never have to be again. And her son is taking care of her, looking after her, taking her for Hajj, and yet she sees fit to complain about the little things of her son to perfect strangers. Or even his bad behaviour at times, which should be overlooked. Do people really not see their own? Why do we always take our own for granted, and why do some seniors take the superficial good behaviour of strangers and compare to their own caretakers? I have met many older folk who complain to my parents when we are visiting them about trivial matters, and yet we are there only for a few hours and can be on our good behaviour.
Tags: Kindness of Strangers Bangladesh Hajj