grace and disfavor

Our flights to Florida last Thursday on our way to celebrate Michael's mom's eightieth birthday were both rewarding and distressful. When boarding the first plane, we were greeted by a gorgeous flight attendant named Ada (short for Alexis Dominique) who was immediately and palpably drawn to Calvin, even letting him give her a hug before we were seated. Midway through the flight, after I had somehow managed to change Calvin's diaper in the minuscule bathroom, I read a note Ada had written to us on a paper napkin:

Keep up the great work. I am amazed at the level of strength and humility you brought on this plane when you boarded. Often times you may feel you are overlooked and undervalued. Just know that my prayer for you is one of strength and unmerited favor. While your son may not have been able to express himself to me, he said a million words with his smile and hug! I pray he continues to change lives as he did mine. LUV ADA

Her words of love made me weepy. Regrettably, however, the glow of Ada's smile and message of hope and positivity wore off momentarily during the second leg of our trip.

After deplaning, we made our way to the Southwest Airlines gate in Baltimore where we parked ourselves nearest to the gate. Calvin, who was seated in an airport wheelchair, was up to his usual antsy antics. While feeding him and waiting to board, I spied two airline personnel. One of them, a middle-aged White guy wearing his sunglasses for much of the time (indoors, mind you), was describing to the other man who I thought might be a pilot, his long-term service in the Marine Reserves. He seemed keyed-up and cocky, a bit as if he had sniffed some coke. His greenish eyes were accentuated by a buzz cut with a bristly ridge not unlike a dog's raised hackles. Each time I smiled at him, he looked right through me, then abruptly averted his gaze. I figured he must have been an airport bellhop or a technician. At one point, he turned his back on us, lowering his voice to nearly a whisper so as not to be overheard. I wondered what disparaging things he might have been saying, perhaps about certain passengers, foreigners—who knows? In any case, I got a seriously bad vibe from him. The next time he looked at me, I narrowed my eyes, wagering he was trouble.

To my utter surprise, he turned out to be one of the flight attendants. He greeted the passengers by joking that the 737 jet had just one engine, but that the plane was "perfectly fine" and "good enough" to fly. I thought his comments were reckless, especially considering the somewhat recent crashes of two Boeing 737 Max planes. When he took the mic, he delivered his safety precaution shtick, listing behaviors allegedly not allowed on the plane, such as crying, slapping, whining, complaining and microagressions. Though I knew he was trying to be funny, I winced thinking of Calvin, who was already busy committing most of the so-called forbidden offenses.

The flight attendant persisted:

"And if any of you experience microagressions, you can go sit out on the wing. It's a safe space for Snowflakes."

Some readers may not be aware of what microagressions are. Well, now is a good time to learn. Study up. Microaggressions are brief and commonplace verbal or behavioral indignities, whether intentional or not, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative bigoted slights and insults toward any marginalized group, such as—though not limited to—a racial or ethnic minority. 

I wondered if his comments were primarily meant for the many Black passengers on the plane, people who likely are the principal targets of microaggressions.

From the aisle seat, and without pause, I asserted myself loudly enough for several rows of passengers to hear me.

"That is not okay. That is not funny."

"We're all good, Ma'am," he replied, with a faint southern drawl seeping out from a sheepish jester's smile.

"No. YOU'RE all good," I said, pointing my finger at him, wanting badly to cite his Able-White-Male privilege.

He continued his attempt to assuage me, repeating the "it's all good" thing.

"I'm offended!" I added disdainfully, and then I let it rest.

A Black woman seated across the aisle one row up turned her head slightly in my direction and grinned; the flight attendant shrunk into the beverage-prep area. I wanted to stand up and apologize for his ignorant, bigoted behavior—his statement about microagressions epitomizing a microagression itself. Black people and other People of Color, among others, hear and experience this kind of tacitly racist bullshit all day every day, and yet most seem to have spectacular grace in deflecting it and moving on, despite being utterly vindicated if they chose to confront it head on.

So, too, went the rest of our three-day adventure with our quirky, spastic, loud, sometimes manic, non-verbal, incontinent, drooly, seizure-prone, overlooked or gawked-at teenage son—people, most of them strangers like Ada, sharing deep and moving gestures of love, kindness, compassion, grace and generosity, while others, albeit far fewer, displaying with flying colors their ignorance, disfavor and contempt.

Calvin hugging Ada (Alexis Dominique)


  1. Calvin's Mom has some writing skillz! Plus, getting a hug from a cute (and female) flight attendant is a major coup for any teen age boy. Sounds like a pretty good trip to me.

  2. Good for you to speak up...microagressions is new to me. The snowflake remark would have sent me over the edge...