April 19, 2012

At 6535 miles we were quite far from Mecca, a quarter way round the world, at 35,000 feet somewhere over the Atlantic.  I know this because our TV monitor on Delta flight 73 from Istanbul to New York showed that distance every couple of hours with an arrow pointing to the holy city so the Muslims on board could pray. Not that I saw anyone roll out their carpet and do salah.

Especially the Jewish father and son sitting across the aisle from me. No arrows for them pointing to the Western Wall. They don’t have to point in the right direction, just in front of any wall including the airplane bulkhead wall of the WC. Not that I saw anyone doing this either, at least on this flight. (On a previous flight a devout Jew donned his torah, tallit and tefillin and began his bowing chants.)

Doubtless the 200+ passengers on this flight represented a wide range of beliefs and non-beliefs on their way from secular Islamic Istanbul to secular commercial New York. Mostly a smooth flight, 10.5 hours, spent reading, writing, snoozing and trying to eat the wretched fast food snacks they offer. A couple of bland movies were screened with little attention from me. (photo left: Blue Mosque, Istanbul)

Then suddenly on the screen was ‘Glee’, the popular TV high school program with gay and lesbian and disabled characters that I ignored at first but then plugged in my headphones. As it happened this episode focused on the high school prom and all the preparations and personal issues behind the scenes leading to the big night. Not surprising for this show were the gay couples attending the prom with their same-sex partners; not a show stopper here.

But then the votes for prom king and queen were announced to the student audience. The winning king was a big macho football type guy who was surprised and rather embarrassed. Then came the queen winner announced as Kurt, one of the gay male students. Dead silence. Shock and intense confusion as Kurt rushed out of the room feeling humiliated and bashed, bullied and targeted.

In the following scene, outside the ballroom. Kurt and his partner Blaine (photo right) talk through the flood of emotion he is feeling–anger, humiliation, hurt–and are able to recover poise and return to the floor and have the first dance together to the gradually building applause. The first dance was supposed to have been with the prom king but he walked out in disgust.

So there it was, packed into one short combined episode on a high flying plane: Muslims, Jews, gays, Delta Airlines and a cabin full of random captive viewers. Who knows what they mostly thought about the mix. Probably little since many were not even looking at the TV, rather playing with their droid devices, doing sudoku, reading or sleeping.

I thought it a rather remarkable moment of inclusion for our LGBT community; I choose to see it as progress. Someone in the corporate structure of the world’s largest airline deliberately selected to blend a homosexual drama into the matrix of modern life and jet travel to an audience that ranged from my own pro-gay style to conservative Muslims and Jews to multicultural passengers (likely including more than a few American evangelicals) and airline staff on board.

I did not see anyone protesting the odd inclusion, not that they could have walked out! But there it was, at least for me, a not so subtle moment of ‘grace’, if you will, when differences and labels and ideologies are quiet and blended and everyone, everything is allowed just to ‘be’. After the ‘Glee’ show, Mecca was still to the east of the Western Wall and farther east of Hollywood; certainly gays attend at all three sites. Oh, that we could have more grace more often.

Richard Ammon