sunset over a plane wing

Conversation on a Plane

Once, about 20 years ago, I was on a long-haul British Airways flight, probably from London to San Francisco, or vice-versa. I don’t sleep much on planes, so during a quiet night I ended up in the galley, chatting with one of the flight attendants. We exchanged the usual origin stories. He was half Indian, half Pakistani, a situation whose complexities I could intuit, given my own history in India and Bangladesh.

We shared experiences in various parts of the world, including the US. After we had talked for quite a while, he leaned in and said softly: “You don’t seem like most Americans, so can I ask you something?”

“Sure.”

“What’s wrong with your country?”

I knew, instantly, exactly what he meant.

How to explain that the US was the wealthiest country in the world, yet cared so little for so many of its people? How to forgive that the American rich were so very rich, yet so callously cruel to the American poor? There are hundreds of millions of desperately poor people in India, but this is somewhat more forgivable: India is climbing up from a much deeper hole, with a lot stacked against it. Bringing more people out of poverty there will take time.

The US does not have these problems, and never did. What possible excuse could there be for the US to behave as it does towards its own citizens?

I didn’t have an answer for him then. I still don’t now.

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