Airplane Thoughts

When I flew back to the U.S. last week (a casual 26-hour trip) I watched two films that were drastically different and yet exactly the same in their messages. One film was called Human Flow by Ai Weiwei and the other was Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, directed by Martin McDonagh. After I watched the first one, I cried a lot. And then I watched the second one and cried a lot too. And after I finished crying a lot, I thought a lot. 

What if we were raised in a culture of acceptance instead of in a world where “good” and “bad” and “right” and “wrong” are defined differently among people to the point where disagreement becomes disrespectful? 

I asked myself what it means to me to feel home in a place that was not always my home. I came to the U.S. seventeen years ago with my family, as an immigrant, and when I think about what that was like, and then I think about refugee families today and what it must be like for them, I feel so much pain. 

My wish would be for everyone who arrives in this country to find safety and feel home, but I know that not all do. I know that fear drives people to choose actions that are easily mistaken for reactions based on hate or judgement. But I also know that we, as humans, are inherently good, and that we are so capable of loving each other no matter where we come from. I know the latter is a stronger and better know, because that is the know that I lived. 

I arrived here at ten years old, and I felt accepted. I went to school and was approached politely by children wanting to be friends, despite the fact that my skin was darker and my eyes smaller. My teachers saw potential in me and guided and supported me genuinely. Strangers smiled at me and showed me kindness. Neighbors treated me as an equal neighbor. And it didn’t take long to feel home.

In Weiwei’s film I didn’t see much of my own story. I saw the version of mine that is a nightmare for me but a reality for others today. And no one deserves a reality like that. I don’t know the solution to the refugee crisis around the world, but I know what I can do and what I am willing to do. And it matters; small actions matter because in the end it is not about the action, but about the exchange between people.

After watching Three Billboards, I realized something that allowed for a new level of awareness in me: We need to get a head start in understanding and internalizing the idea that we are supposed to be in this together. That really is how simple it is. 

Both Three Billboards and Human Flow are talking about the same issue but framing it in different stories. In Three Billboards, the fighting parties come from the same place and are separated only by how they were raised and the roads between them. In Human Flow, they are separated by oceans and wars and cultures. Both are trying to tell us that we are separating ourselves from each other and it’s killing us. We’re nourishing hatred and bigotry and racism and ignorance and differences and we are choosing enemies in the people we share this Earth with. That’s not fair, and we have to fix it.

There is a quote in Human Flow that is important for the world to hear: “It’s going to be a big challenge to recognize that the world is shrinking, and people from different religions, different cultures, are going to have to learn to live with each other.” It shouldn’t be a challenge to meet our neighbors in the middle. It should be natural to our humanity.

In Three Billboards, Woody Harrelson says,Through love comes calm and through calm comes thought.” Love should be our first language as people. Love should be at the center of our existence, as individuals and as a species.

We are better than what we are doing to each other right now. We have to put it together, and we have to take it seriously. We need to choose love, and we need to choose it more often. 

Two tablespoons of sunshine, please.

To quote the Backstreet Boys, “Sadness is beautiful, loneliness is tragical.”  Tell me the truth—am I biased because I love the Backstreet Boys or are they just brilliant?

Yes!  They’re brilliant.  I knew it.

The reason I’m writing about good ol’ BSB is not because I want to talk about how much better they are than N’Sync, even though we all know they are.  I’m writing about them because I always thought those lyrics to be meaningful.

Last week I was a little sad–probably one of the only times I’ve been sad in the last few months.  I woke up sad, which is the worst way to ever wake up but hey, I guess we all need that feeling sometimes.  The snooze button was my friend that Monday morning, and all I really wanted was to stay in the darkness beneath my bedsheets for a few more hours.  But I did what I’m best at and rallied—to class.

I was miserable until I walked out of the apartment and into the sunshine.  Here in Sevilla, the sun is always shining.  The sky is my favorite shade of blue, the clouds are either nonexistent or perfectly white and fluffy.  I walk to school in the happiest of moods and permanently with a pep in my step.  I often find myself trying to hold in a smile.  I see strangers and tourists on the street wanting to ask them if they love this city as much as I do.  I decide against it, knowing already that they do.

I know they do, because the sunshine is electric.  For me, it’s almost impossible to be sad when the sun is out and about and free and lighting up the world.  It was just what I needed on that sad morning.  I popped my headphones in and you know what I did?  I put my CRY playlist on.  My CRY playlist was made for stressful moments where I just know that crying will help.  Songs move me so quickly and without my permission, and this playlist triggers the tears in my eyes.

But I didn’t cry.  Maybe I was just feeling nostalgic and not sad like I thought I was, but I couldn’t do it even with this playlist.  Instead, I let my sad morning turn into a happy day and I smiled the whole way to school.  It was picture perfect outside, and on those days it’s okay to be sad.  In the movie The Town, one of the characters says that sunny days remind her of death because her brother died in a hospital on a sunny day.

I guess it’s better to be sad on a sunny day.  If you think about it, happy days are good days to be sad every once in a while.  You can go back in your mind and be sad, but the sun is out, and that should remind you that you’re okay.

We get hurt often.  We lose people often.  We lose people all the time.  Sad things just happen, and nothing’s wrong with remembering that.  I always like to look back with a smile.  Whether the sadness is over the death of a loved one, or the one that got away, or the simple memory of the past, sometimes what we need is to listen to a sad playlist on happy day.  Sunshine is medicine for our memories.