Center section, middle seat is not choice on a long international flight, but it's what I was assigned, and I settled in between two large men.
The man to my left arrived, computer open, in his own world and with his own rules. At takeoff, he ignored the announcements asking passengers to put away computers. He spread his work out, including notebooks and elbows, far beyond the invisible and visible borders of the armrest and my tray table. Soon he constructed a little wall out of his computer case, allowing him to encroach on me further.
He was given a special meal when those were distributed, and accepted a regular meal when they were served, piling both trays on the floor under his seat and mine.
By this time, I was disgruntled and felt justifiably put upon. All his self-centeredness and rule-breaking were annoying. And just as I was thinking about what an unfortunate neighbor I'd gotten, it hit me: He was my neighbor.
With this realization came a sobering reminder of another rule. It's a rule I love: the Golden Rule. It requires loving our neighbor. And it's a rule that I would never knowingly break, though I momentarily hoped it might not apply to this neighbor.
The Golden Rule, to love one's neighbor as oneself, is articulated in the Old Testament of the Bible and reiterated by Christ Jesus in the New Testament. Mary Baker Eddy, who discovered Christian Science and who was a devout Bible student, mentioned the Golden Rule explicitly in her writings over 60 times, and implicitly in many other instances. She wrote, quoting the First Epistle of John, " 'Love one another' (I John, iii. 23), is the most simple and profound counsel of the inspired writer" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," p. 572).
Yes, this was obviously the requirement, even though I thought I would like to select another neighbor who was not so obviously offensive. Of course that was the very point. I realized that my need was to love that very neighbor – the one who seemed unlovable. The instruction to love one another does not have a qualifier; it is a simple instruction to love all. I reasoned, what was the point in praying for world peace, as I do each day, if I couldn't practice that peace on a flight? After all, the very basis of war is the offensiveness of a neighbor – an unlovable neighbor.
I began to pray to find the love that I knew was present, divine Love, right there where I was sitting. I began to highlight in my thought what was right and lovable about my neighbor. He was very dedicated to his work. He was obviously diligent about accomplishing whatever assignment he was working on. This sense of obedience and earnestness is derived from God, divine Principle. I began to appreciate how hard he was working, and that he had perhaps even worked through his lunchtime that day and was very hungry. At last I felt real compassion for this man. I could see him as his mother might see him and want to care for him. I continued to pray like this, seeing him as God's child. I felt I was coming into line with this divine rule to love our neighbor.
There is another aspect to it, and that is to love our neighbor as we do ourselves. I recognized that I also needed to love my loving self, and love away a sense of self-righteousness, of being judgmental, and of indignation. This sort of reaction was not part of the loving child of God I intend to be, and intend to see in others. The effect of this prayer was a feeling of softness and comfort.
Just about then, he got up and took a break, and when he got back to his seat, I noticed he didn't put up his computer-case wall. And he shifted into a position that was more comfortable for both of us. Hours later, when the second meal service began, he again was served the early special-request meal. When the normal meals were served, he again took one.
But then an interesting thing happened. Before he opened it, he told the flight attendant that he'd like to have it, but that he'd already had a meal – and offered to give it back. She took it and told him if there were extras she'd bring it back. When it was obvious that either there were no extras (or she'd gotten busy and forgotten), I asked him if he'd like mine. Though he declined, it was a very kindly exchange.
Later, going through customs, he was on his cellphone, which was against the rules. But I felt that a larger rule, the Golden Rule, had saved us both – not only in preventing a kind of mental skirmish, but in overcoming, dispensing with, hardness. And in its place, there was a tenderness and tangible kindness that come from God, Love, alone.
He was truly my neighbor, that one to love.