Maybe America - and the world - would be safer if we dug through our emotional attics and found not only our imaginations, but our humanity.
On a recent trip to the airport, I'm embarrassed to say that a lifetime of good ethics and believing in treating others as I would want to be treated was chased out of me, instantly replaced by a childish fear and hatred of the unfamiliar. On the bright side, I began to make sense of something people have been saying all along.
The 9/11 commission told Americans that a "failure of imagination" was one of the most important mistakes. It's an idea that questions our ability to think creatively - the essence of being human. I began to ponder this as I was taking off my tennis shoes for airline security. It was hard not to believe that, at least momentarily, the terrorists had won. First I took off my coat and hat and placed them on the X-ray belt. Next went my small carry-on duffel, and then my backpack. I took out my laptop and put it in a plastic bin.
Then I removed my cellphone and wallet and placed them in yet another container, along with my boarding pass - so nervous was I about carrying anything through the metal detector. Finally, I walked through in my stocking feet.
I was already grouchy when the man behind the metal detector stopped me. He attacked me with questions, which for some reason felt personal. He asked if I was wearing anything under my sweatshirt, and then told me I was required to put my sweatshirt on the belt.
It was Boston; it was winter; it was cold. There wasn't a single person in line ahead or behind me who wasn't wearing a sweatshirt or a sweater, and they clearly weren't being "required" to take them off.
As I walked through, there were more questions. He had seen me put down my boarding pass, and while he didn't actually want to look at it, he asked me what would have happened if he had wanted to look at it. I politely - if sardonically - explained that I had just shown the boarding pass to the ID-checker 10 feet away and 45 seconds ago, but he said that the ID-checkers had nothing to do with security. He might have wanted to check my ID again, he pointed out.
He then asked (sarcastically, I thought) if I had ever flown before. Was this my first time? We had a little more back-and-forth, and then he asked me to stand next to him for a little while for some unknown reason - punishment, perhaps? - before letting me go.